You don’t have to wait any longer…at least to read the first chapter! LOL.
Sorry, I know I’m a terrible tease. But trust me, Hard Time will be worth the wait. Jeff and Ari are finally making their way back onto Kindles…only a few more weeks to go!
Here’s the first chapter. If you love it, comment below! Actually, if you hate it, I want you to comment as well! I want to hear EVERYTHING!!! <3
Five fucking years down the drain, and for what? To win a pissing contest against the schmuck who got my ass terminated and destroyed my life?
I take one final deep breath to blunt the feelings of rage that always bubble to the surface whenever I think of that bastard. The prison alarm blares, making my ears ring for what I sure as hell hope will be the last time. The automatic metal door creaks open, and I step into the warm late afternoon sunshine, finally seconds away from freedom.
All I need to do is walk through those tall wrought iron gates, the ones wrapped in barbed, electrified wire. There were always stories floating around about inmates who’d felt the need to test out the silent threat, but ended up roasting themselves. Same idiots who weren’t smart enough not to get caught. Five years was a damn long time, but not enough of a sentence that would make me risk deep-frying my balls. And yeah, even though I got out early on good behavior, I was one of those idiots. I did get caught.
Gone is the bright orange jumpsuit. I look normal, even though I feel anything but. The Nevada desert air is dry, stagnant, and still. In any other situation, it’d be thick enough to choke me, but being on the other side, the free side? It’s so fucking sweet. I adjust my belt, several notches too big. Being in lockdown takes more than a few inches off the waistline, mainly due to grueling daily workouts, food that was best described as maggot meal, lamenting, and plotting…mostly plotting.
The alarm sounds again, shattering the blissful silence, and the large gates swing open, allowing me access to the outside world. So many thoughts run through my mind about what had gone wrong on that fateful night. Almost everything had been within my control, but I overlooked a single detail, and it was fucking major. I lost my focus. Didn’t see the signs. Walked right into the goddamned trap.
So, now, there’s a score to settle. A big one. Because the last time stripped me of everything.
I turn and look back at the dark gray concrete building known as San Pedro State Penitentiary, my home of the last five years.
No fucking way will I be back here again. Ever.
Idiots have nothing to lose. I have everything to gain.
My partner Remo is waiting for me at the exit in a beat-up, navy blue Honda Accord. The car is as non-descript as they come. Remo on the other hand? He towers over me, over most people, at almost seven feet tall. Dark hair, dark skin, menacing eyes. He looks like a badass motherfucker, but he’s one of the best guys I know. Huge heart in a very unexpected package. I peer in the windows of his car, furrowing my brow at the paper bags scattered on the backseat. He also has an unhealthy obsession with saturated fat. Remo gives a half-shrug as I open the passenger side door. “I’m trying to run it into the ground before I buy something new.”
“Better to have a getaway car like this than the pimped out Hummer that Rand drives.” I yank the door handle and pull it open, sinking into the bucket seat. The stale stench of fast food immediately assaults my nose. “Jesus, Remo. This shit’ll kill you,” I say, kicking at the bags surrounding my feet.
“It’s how I fuel up. You know that. I think best loaded up on grease and salt.”
“Yeah, well, it’s too bad I made you skip dinner the night I got pinched. Maybe things might’ve gone differently.”
“And now you’ve paid the price. I bet you’ll never make me skip another meal again.” He puts the key in the ignition and the car coughs its way to life. “How was the clink?”
A loaded question. To say it’s full of interesting characters is a gross understatement. The shadiest ones had their own personal lines to the outside, and with a little bit of cash, you can get a lot of shit from them. But I didn’t care about things like porn, smokes, or booze. I wanted information, which was harder, and more expensive, to get. But like minds always come together, and I used my steady stream of cash to get me exactly what I needed to concoct a plan, the plan that would make me whole again. “Not horrible. Gave me time to clear my head.”
Remo sticks his hand in a grease-stained bag on the console and digs around, producing a fistful of soggy french fries. “Want some? Looks like you can use some food.”
I stare at his hand and then at him. “Thanks, but I’ll pass.”
“Not good enough for ya, huh? Even after five years of choking down that horseshit they’ve been shoveling onto your plate?”
I snicker. “I am starving. How about a beer? And I’m talking about a cold one, not one you pull from some magical hiding place in this shit heap.”
“Is that the way you talk to the only guy who volunteered to pick your ass up in Nevada and drive you all the way back to LA?” Remo shakes his head and pulls the clunker onto the freeway heading south. “Jesus Christ, in about twenty minutes, I’ll be an accomplice to your parole violation. Not to mention I’m the only one who has the inside scoop about where the star of our upcoming show is gonna be later tonight, and guess what? A Grammy ain’t the only thing she’ll be wrapping her hands around and squeezing.”
“We’re getting married!”
Even though my head is blissfully thick with cobwebs, courtesy of the gallon of vodka I’ve already consumed, those words reverberate between my ears like clanging symbols. I can’t drown them out, and believe me, I’ve tried. For hours.
Pulsating beats vibrate the lacquered floor beneath my stilettos as I make a futile attempt to dance away the hollow feeling in my heart. A stream of perspiration drizzles down the back of my neck, making me cringe. I’m alone…alone in the most frivolous and artificial world I can imagine. Hollywood. La La Land. Tinseltown. Call it what you want. It’s still a big ass bubble of superficiality.
I’m jaded. At twenty-eight. Of course, out here, that’s pretty damned ancient, not that I have any delusions about a career in acting or modeling. Nope, I don’t have any aspirations to be one of those diva bitches. My goal is simple. Keep said bitches out of the media. Note, I said nothing about keeping them out of trouble. My very expensive services only cover so much. I’m not their babysitter.
I’m a publicist.
A swift hip check jolts me from my scattered thoughts. “Hey! You’re dry.” My assistant Layna points to the empty highball glass in my hand.
“It’s not doing any good. I think I’ve drunk myself sober.”
Layna snickers. “Good! Grammy after-parties always equate to paparazzi poison for our clients, so it’s probably better if you’re sober. I sure as hell hope you’re ready to do some serious damage control.”
I let out a deep sigh. “Aren’t I always?”
Layna’s smile fades. “You’re still upset, aren’t you?” It was a question, but the tone of her voice made it sound more like a statement. She’d never understand, not that I’d ever bothered to explain the deep-rooted feelings I didn’t even want to acknowledge to myself.
“It’s just a little fast, that’s all. Can you blame me for being apprehensive?”
“I get it. I just think you need to let things go. She’s not you, Ari.”
No, she definitely isn’t.
I manage a weak smile and wave my glass at Layna. “Maybe it is time for another drink.”
“As long as you promise me that you won’t be dragging me into the office at three o’clock in the morning to handle disaster recovery for our leading ladies.”
“That’s part of the job, love. You signed up for that shit day one.” I link my arm through hers and push through the throng of sweaty bodies grinding to the deafening music. Groping hands slither over my hips and ass as we move, one even has the audacity to pinch. I spin around, narrowing my eyes at the leering dumbass. Pretty boy. Fucking stupid as hell though. I grit my teeth. It’s bad enough my clients cause tsunamis with their less-than-aboveboard antics, I don’t need my good name spiraling down after them. I have to be careful. Social media can crush me if I make a single wrong move. And I can’t afford to have that kind of negative attention on me right now.
Still…I don’t have patience for this crap.
I lean toward his tall, built frame, my lips curling into a saccharin sweet smile. “Did you need something?”
He grins, swaying toward me. “Just a dance. Then maybe a fuck.”
I squeeze Layna’s hand and avert my eyes in an attempt to look demure before I knock him on his cocky ass. “I’m pretty sure that a guy who looks like you can get a girl to drop her panties without having to manhandle her.” I flutter my eyelashes and move in for the kill. “But I can’t say she’d be too eager to screw you once she finds out your dick’s the size of a peanut. Because really, if it wasn’t, wouldn’t you be waiting for me to come to you?” I wink. “Try not to overcompensate too much. In this town, you need an air of mystery. Especially with a small penis.”
I don’t use brute force unless I absolutely have to. I’m better with words. It’s why I get away with charging such exorbitant retainers to preserve livelihoods.
And, despite everything polluting my mind, tonight is a good night. One of my clients walked away with the Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocalist. It’s celebration time for a job well done, all around.
The bar is packed. We stand around, pressed together like a bunch of slimy sardines in a can, since the air in the club is drenched with humidity. A whiff of Prada cologne floats under my nose and I stifle an inward groan.
I paste on a smile and twist in the direction of the gruff voice to my right. You never know whose tarnished reputation is in need of polishing, which is another reason why I don’t go around pummeling drunk, handsy dipshits in bars. I’m always on the job.
Dark eyes crinkle in the corners as they narrow at me, full lips stretched into a tight line. Tall, menacing yet delectable, and, built like a brick shithouse. I can work with this, provided he hasn’t killed anyone. I’m good, but I know my limits.
“You need to follow me.”
I snort and turn back to my assistant Layna, who’s waving a fifty at the bartender as she flirts madly with her boobs. “I don’t think so.”
He steps closer, completely invading my space, his breath hot against my ear. “My boss has a message for you. He’s asked to speak to you privately.”
A dry laugh escapes my lips. “Well, if it’s so important, he can get off his ass and find me himself.”
“It doesn’t work that way, Ms. Carlson. You’re about to have a very big problem, and only one person can solve it. I suggest you follow me. If you don’t, your very lucrative client list will dissipate like a fart in the wind by sunrise. That’s a guarantee.”
Her expression is stony and petulant. I can see it clearly from my vantage point in the back corner of the dimly lit lounge. Good. She’ll need to channel that anger and hostility pretty damned soon. Remo nods his head in my direction and she turns toward me, her eyes narrowed and lips pursed. I maintain a steady gaze, even though my eyes beg to rake over the luscious curves storming through the crowd. They are desperate to leer, but that’s not why I’m here.
I never make personal appearances for professional reasons. Ever.
But this situation requires an exception. Nothing will be left to chance, not this time.
Her tits bounce as she walks, high heels making her leg muscles flex with each step. The tight black dress wrapped around her body like Saran Wrap makes my cock twitch, and I grit my teeth. It’s gonna be a long night, and nothing about it is even remotely sexual.
Remo disappears like the good minion that he is, and Ariana Carlson stands in front of me, arms folded, accentuating the fact that she’s about to have a wardrobe malfunction if she squeezes her arms together any tighter. I can’t say I’d be sorry to see those tits up close and personal, but now’s not really the time. We’re on the clock, starting exactly thirty-seven minutes ago. I knew my nemesis would come out of his fucking hole sooner than later, and Ariana Carlson is the one person who can help me string up that bastard by the balls.
Finding her wasn’t much of a challenge, but convincing her that I’m not the enemy is going to take some finessing, something that doesn’t come naturally to me. Especially since that is exactly what I am.
“I don’t appreciate being summoned. Who the fuck do you think you are?”
I allow a smug grin to spread across my face. “I’m the one who got you over here despite that claim.”
Her mouth drops open and then quickly closes. “Make no mistake. I’m not intimidated by you or your thugs.”
“I’m aware of that. You’re here because you’re curious, and that’s good.” I pick up the half-full glass of scotch in front of me and swirl it around before taking a long sip. Impatience is creeping into her expression, and I know this cat and mouse shit isn’t going to work for much longer. “It might be better if you sit for this next part.”
“I’m fine right here.”
“I don’t think you want me to shout.”
She rolls her eyes and slams her hands on the table. A definite spark plug with a mouth that can spit fire. Fuck, that has so many possibilities…
“What makes you think I care?”
“Because if I mention a name that currently pays your firm $20,000 a month for representation, the same one who walked away with a very prestigious award tonight, it won’t bode well for you if anyone overhears why said name is in question.”
She sinks onto the leather bench, searing me with a glare that could slice through concrete. “Listen, you creepy mother fucker. I don’t know who the hell you are, but I’m about two seconds away from calling the cops. Don’t you dare try to dangle bullshit information in front of me and think I’ll give you the time of day!”
“Fair enough.” I pull out my iPhone and pick out one of the photos that I’d received. I hand it to her and watch the snark desert her body, deflating her with each second she stared at the image.
“How do I know this isn’t photoshopped?”
“Why hasn’t your client shown up yet? This is her after-party, isn’t it? Shouldn’t the hostess show up at some point?”
”She’s on her way.” Ariana’s shoulders are squared, voice strong and assured. But it’s her eyes that betray her. They flash a lot of fucking emotion, none of which includes certainty.
“On her way where, exactly? Because from the looks of these pictures, she’s not leaving her current location any time soon.”
She leans closer, dropping her voice, practically seething at me. Her perfumed scent wafts under my nose – sultry, spicy, and sexy as fuck. It momentarily clouds the issue at hand, and like some jackass, I allow it. I want to see the fire deep within this woman. She’s about to combust, and I want to be singed by the flames. “You think you’re the first jackass photographer who’s shown me a hacked up picture of a client and expected me to write a check for it? If you’re looking for a payoff, I’ll have my attorney so far up your ass, it’ll feel like a colonoscopy without the anesthesia. Fuck off.” She flips her hair, the smell of coconut whipping across my face, and slides away from me.
I grab her wrist and her head jerks backward, her eyes narrowed. “Take your hand off me.”
“I can’t let you go, Ariana.”
“The fuck you can’t.” She pulls her wrist away, but I keep my grip tight.
“I need your help.”
“What you need is a class that’ll teach you how to deal with people.” She yanks again, to no avail. Answers are what she wants, but she can’t have them. At least, not yet.
“Here’s the deal, Ari. If you walk away right now, you’re in for the biggest shitstorm you’ve never experienced in your professional career. This problem your client has wandered into will snowball very quickly, and unless we get in front of it, your reputation will go up in smoke by the time the first headline flashes on the morning news.”
“Let go of my arm,” she growls. I comply, partly to test her. Reading people comes pretty easily to me, and despite her bullshit I’ve-got-everything-under-control façade, I know she’s flipping the fuck out. And rightly so.
“Why should I trust you? I don’t even know your name.”
“Names aren’t important right now. And you should trust me because I’m the only one who can save the livelihood of your star client, America’s newest pop tart sweetheart, the one who’s on her knees right now with a dildo shoved up her skirt and a dick plugging her in the ass.”
<3 <3 <3