Block and Strike is now available for pre-order at most retail outlets! As such, I figured it might be time to post a new teaser. 😉
This scene is from the end of chapter two. The second chapter is where we meet Max for the first time. Throughout every revision round and edit, this chapter pretty much stayed intact–which is pretty unusual for an early chapter. I credit Max’s stubbornness. Even confined to a hospital bed, he had a handle on the situation: who he was, who he wanted to be and how much of a plan he didn’t have to get there.
I hope you enjoy this scene! If you want more, I have two other excerpts available:
Half an hour later, sheaf of paper in hand, loose, borrowed T-shirt flapping around his hips, Max limped slowly toward the double glass doors of the hospital. A single word sang through his blood: Freedom. And it hurt. Everything hurt, but he was used to it. Wasn’t like he hadn’t had the stuffing kicked out of him before.
The doors whooshed open, revealing bright sunlight, and pain stabbed him directly through the eyes. Or the eye. The thing about having one closed eye was that he couldn’t see the shocked looks from anyone on his left side. He could see the man standing in the open doors, though, a corona of sunlight flaring around his blond head, and the shock on his face seemed worse, somehow.
It was the guy from upstairs. Willa’s brother.
“Hey,” the golden man said. He reached for Max’s arm. “How are you doing? All right to walk? I’d have come upstairs, you know.”
Max jerked his arm free of the man’s grasp. What was his name? Willa had mentioned it. “I think you’ve got the wrong person,” he said.
“Nope, I’m here for you. Max, right?”
Sighing hurt. He had to remember sighing hurt.
The golden man thrust out a hand. “Jake.”
Max looked at the hand before giving it a brief shake. His mother hadn’t raised him to be rude. Or maybe he was just too tired and sore to continue being an ass. “My girlfriend is coming to pick me up.”
Jake’s tentative smile folded up and left his face. “Oh.”
“Yeah.” Max started to swipe his hair out of his eyes, then remembered that would hurt. “Um, sorry?”
“Yeah, no, that’s cool. Want me to wait with you?”
Jake’s mouth flattened, and Max studied the line it made across his handsome face. Everything about Jake was square but not rigid. He just had angles. Big gray eyes, same as his sister’s, defined cheekbones and a strong jaw. He kept his hair short, and it looked both bristly and soft.
Eyes narrowing, Jake offered an upward nod. “Your girlfriend isn’t coming, is she?”
Max thought about lying. Blurring the truth had always been a good way to make himself less distinct, less defined. But he’d taken a breath and Jake still held his gaze and Max just knew he’d see the lie tripping off his tongue.
“’S okay, I get it,” Jake said. “If I were you, I wouldn’t want my girlfriend to see me like this either. Listen, I know you don’t know me, but I’m only trying to help. I’m the one who found you. Brought you in. I called my sister and we carried you in here. Last night.”
Max’s throat quivered as if it might close. He swallowed. He didn’t want to accept this man’s help, no matter how beautiful and golden he was, and he didn’t want to… crap. He dipped his chin too quickly and made the mistake of sniffing. Fire shot up his nose and into his head and the world took another spin. Jake caught his shoulder and eased him away from the door where Max might have been making a scene.
“No worries, man. You’re messed up. Let’s get you home.”
The short ride back to Beech Street became a blur of motion and time. Max could barely account for any of it when Jack’s truck rolled over the rough pavement of the alley and turned into a garage. He was grateful to have someone to follow from there to the apartment door, but paused when he found himself halfway up the stairs.
“I live downstairs.”
“Willa wants me to keep you upstairs with me. Just for a night.”
“I have to work tonight.”
“Max, there is no way you’re working tonight.”
“I’ll lose my job.”
“Call in sick. It’s the Wawa on Lincoln, right? Your manager knows you were in the ER last night. The police had to call him to ID you.”
Not good. He’d probably already been replaced. One month did not equal any sort of seniority. Max turned on the stairs. “I should call in.”
“You can do that from my place.” Jake shuffled in place and produced a cell phone. “You can call from here if you want.” From the stairwell, because if Jake let him go downstairs, he’d lose the battle?
Talk about stubborn.
“Why can’t I go down to my place?”
“First off, your place is like the Lair of the White Worm. It’s fucking creepy down there.”
Max did his best to look offended. His apartment was…. Okay, it was a lair.
“Second off, Willa really thinks you need someone to keep an eye on you. Knocks to the head can be nasty business. You were out cold for a while. We don’t know how long.” Jake tilted his head. “Do you remember anything?”
The police had asked him that and he’d told them a bunch of useless facts. For Jake, Max shrugged and sighed and neither hurt because he was just so tired.
“Ready to go upstairs?” Jake asked.
“You can take a shower and I can burn those pants. Maybe the shirt, too.”
He did stink—of the hospital and piss. Whoever thought of hospitals as clean and sterile places was seriously deluded. “I don’t have any other clothes.” He figured mentioning he had some downstairs would incite another lecture on why he couldn’t go to his own apartment.
“Not a problem. You can borrow something of mine until we get a key from Mr. Wu.”
Because he’d lost his keys last night, as well.
Suddenly it was all too much. He craved a shower, time alone in a small space with lots of hot water and billowing steam. A place to hide. And a couch sounded good. If it had to be Jake’s couch, well, life could be worse. It could be Melanie’s couch.