Authors: J. A. Huss
Rook and Ronin, Book Three
By J. A. Huss
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Cover design by J. A. Huss
Copyright © 2013 by J. A. Huss
All rights reserved.
Other books by J.A. Huss
Clutch (I Am Just Junco, Book One)
Fledge (I Am Just Junco, Book Two)
Flight (I Am Just Junco, Book Three)
Range (I Am Just Junco, Book Four)
The Magpie Bridge (A Tier Novella, Book 4.5)
TRAGIC: Rook and Ronin, #1
MANIC Rook and Ronin, #2
Return (I Am Just Junco, Book Five) (December 2013)
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Rook is chasing her dream—film school and a chance at a life beyond the one she ran from six months ago. But before she can become the girl she wants to be, she must deal with the girl she left behind.
Ronin is also chasing his dream—a family of his own and a life away from erotic modeling. And he too, has a past he’s trying to forget. A past that makes Rook question everything about their life together.
Lies, secrets, and shocking truths will rock the foundation Rook and Ronin have built. Can they put the past behind them and move forward together? Or is this just another too good to be true relationship that will crash and burn in the end?
PROLGUE - ROOK
DAY 1,110 in Captivity
Six Months Ago
That’s how long it takes my face to heal.
I watch the girl in the mirror, looking for marks. She tilts her head this way and that, lifts her chin, stretches her neck for any sign of fingertip-shaped bruises, and then she sighs.
They are all gone. I can see a tiny scar on the edge of my lower lip, but it’s not as bad as it could’ve been if Jon hadn’t rigged up a rudimentary butterfly bandage so he didn’t have to take me to the hospital. It should’ve been stitched, but it wasn’t.
My pack is waiting on the floor of the bathroom. I wasn’t sure if today would be the day. I tried last week but there were still a few purple splotches on the skin under my eye and the lip was scabbed.
It’s been torture waiting to heal. And I kept thinking—what if he does it again? Before I heal? Then I’ll be stuck here even longer.
But enough of that. It’s healed now and I have an appointment. I take one more look in the mirror and give myself a little pep talk. “You’re going to live, Rook. You’re going to
. You might not have the best life, but it will be better than this one. No matter how bad it is at first. Things will get better.”
I really believe it too. Before all this mess with Jon—that’s what he calls it, the mess—I was what some people might call an optimist. A half-full kind of girl.
I think I can be that girl again.
I think I can.
My suitcase contains all my worldly possessions. It’s not much really, just some clothes and trinkets. A few softcover books I never finished, and some crap that meant something to me at one time or another, but no longer matters.
I just want to leave it all behind. Every bit of it. But I don’t want Jon to have anything of me. I want to leave this house and leave no trace of myself.
It’s impossible, I’m not delusional. I’m all over this place. I picked out the dishtowel hanging on the stove. I found the dishes at an antique store not far from here. I’m the only person to ever have used the oven. And I’m leaving behind an entire room of things I can’t bear to look at.
But I can’t change any of that. I can’t erase the imprint I’m leaving here.
All I can do is remove the few very personal items I have and stuff them in this suitcase.
Jon left the car keys today. And a list of errands he wanted me to do. Go to the store, buy his favorite foods, pick up a package at the post office—he was pissed about that, that it had to be picked up instead of delivered. But it was his fault. I couldn’t exactly open the door with my face all purple.
I take one more look down the hallway to the last door on the left. It’s closed. It’s always closed.
I hope it stays closed forever because I’m so tired of thinking about it.
The suitcase is very heavy since it contains all the things I’d rather throw away than leave with Jon, but I manage to get it in the backseat of the Toyota, then plop myself down in the driver’s seat and put my pack on the passenger side.
I’m remarkably calm for a girl who is about to run away. I expected my heart to beat wildly, like the last time I tried to leave.
I didn’t make it that time. But that was two years ago now. He’s made a mess of me so many times since then and I never tried to run away again, so I guess he figures I’m beat. He’s won.
The car protests with backfires and clouds of smoke when I turn the key. I just press the gas until it gets over it. It will work today, I know it will. I’m not worried about the car breaking down at all, and typically I worry about that even if I’m just going to the supermarket in town.
Today it doesn’t matter.
I pull out of the driveway and never look back.
The first thing on my checklist is to ditch the suitcase. I have no use for all that crap in my life anymore. My pack contains two extra day outfits, seven pairs of underwear, one pair of pajamas and some personal hygiene items.
I pull up to a dumpster just inside the Chicago city limits, then lug the suitcase out of the backseat and throw it down on the ground. There’s a few homeless people sleeping nearby so I call out in a friendly voice, “Free stuff in this suitcase. Take whatever you want.”
Most of them just stare at me looking pretty miserable. But a few get up and mumble out a ‘thank you.’
I shrug and get back in the car and weave down a number of streets filled with cars and people walking. Going places and generally being busy on this Monday morning.
Monday is the perfect day because Jon can’t work from home on Mondays. He has to go into the office downtown and work on the servers and stuff at the police station. So even though I won’t answer his calls all day, he won’t be able to figure out what’s wrong until he gets home tonight. By then I’ll be long gone and he won’t be able to find me easily. His thing is computer forensics, so he’s like a god in the virtual world. But I don’t do anything virtual these days, so that’s a total dead end for him. I have cash in my pocket that I’ve been stashing away, little by little, down in the basement for years.
And my bus ticket isn’t even purchased yet, so he can’t track me that way.
I park the car in a trendy neighborhood far away from the bus station and check the mirror one more time.
I smile. My lips pull back from my cheeks and I look like a skeleton. I’ve lost a lot of weight, probably fifteen pounds, and skinny is in my nature, so right now I could probably stand to gain at least twenty to fill out my frame. I smile again and try not to see my life in my eyes.
This time I look almost OK. When you ignore the fact that my soul is crushed and my eyes really are a mirror inside. I don’t look so bad.
But like the car, it doesn’t matter today. I’m not worried about how people see me. If they see my fading bruises, or my cut lip, or the lost, tragic look in my eyes—I do not care. I exist alone in this world as of today.
There is just me.
The smile stays on my face as I enter the beauty salon.
And when I come out two hours later, I’m someone else. There’s no sign of the limp blonde hair I’ve been dyeing since Jon took over my life. The tragic eyes are only half full of sadness and despair, the other half is hope. My hair is as close to its natural brown-black as you can get and not look fake and I changed into my other outfit before I left. All the ladies in the salon made a big deal out of me because I told them I had a special first date tonight and they chuckled and smiled and congratulated me and told me to ‘go get him.’
What I left out was that my first date was with myself.
I end day one thousand one hundred and ten sitting on a Greyhound bus heading to Las Vegas. It’s a two-day trip and I’ve been sitting in this seat for less than half of that and my back already aches and my legs are going numb.
But I don’t care.
It’s nice to meet me again and I can’t wait to get to know me better.
Chapter One - ROOK
Six Months Later
The music pounds in my ear as I force myself up one more aisle of steps at Coors Field. This song always gets me trying a little harder. I hop the long step, then take a stride and pump my legs to go up two steps at once. I can’t do this very long, I’m still no Ford when it comes to running stadiums, but I almost make it to the top before I have to slow down and then finally stop.
I look for Ford, but he’s doing the lower sections today. Just a blur of a black shirt running much harder than me up his current set of steps. I jog in place until the song winds down and realize I’ve used up all my energy. So I stop and enjoy the view. This is why I come to the upper section these days.
The view. These mountains are gorgeous and I never get tired of looking at them. I’m off to the far right of first base. I’m not a baseball person, so I have no idea what that area on the field is called. Right field? I dunno. I’m not on the field anyway, I’m up in the stands, so it hardly matters.
The only thing that matters is that I can see the mountains and the way the reflected sunrise from the east lights them up all pink. Sometimes when Ronin and I are up there for the weekend or just for a ride, I have to pinch myself, that’s how pretty it is.
Colorado changes once September arrives. One minute you’re grilling outside and the nights are pleasant, the next it’s freezing-ass cold. Well, fifties and sometimes forties, anyway. Too cold to hang out at night in shorts anymore.
But the new crisp air feels spectacular on my sweaty skin right now. In fact, I get a little chill because I’m starting to cool down. I enjoy the relative quiet for a few minutes. The traffic down below is pretty loud, but it’s tempered by the ever-constant wind whistling across my ears. Colorado should be nicknamed the Wind State because it’s a regular thing.
Life is so weird. I still can’t get over how much things have changed for me since I stepped off that bus six months ago. I have a lot of money. Well, maybe not a lot compared to Ronin, but to me, a million dollars is too much to even comprehend. STURGIS will pay out at just under six hundred and fifty thousand dollars, plus the fifty grand I had from TRAGIC, plus the money the guys took from Jon when they set him up. I’ve got over a million, actually.
And I’ve bought nothing since before the STURGIS contract started besides food and gas and stuff like that. Not one thing. Not one article of clothing—I have way more clothes than I need. Not a stick of furniture—Ronin purchased all my furniture. Not even a car. Although this is gonna change very soon. I’m just too content to think about spending right now. I’ve never been a shopper and money has not changed that in me.