story excerpt titled “Tropicana”

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Chapter 1 – Essy

“Come on! Grab my hand!” Escobar, yells as he reaches down to pull me up.

He has already scrambled up the chain link fence that blocks our escape, and straddles it like a bull rider. My sweaty palm connects with his and he hauls me up, over the fence. I land in a heap on the pavement as sirens sound in the distance.

Essy lands agile as a cat beside me and pulls me up by my shirt.

“Rapido, move!” he orders, “We just have to make it out of the heat, out of sight.”

I grimace as he propels me forward, my muscles are aching. We’ve already sprinted at least seven blocks. I have no idea where we’re running to, but Essy seems to be guiding us to some predetermined place. Wherever it is, I hope its close.

It’s funny how one stupid decision can change your whole life. My decision to help Essy rip off a high-end jewelry store wasn’t the best one in retrospect. We’d been best buds for years, so when he approached me a week ago, needing someone he could trust to back him up when he hit the store, I’d agreed. He offered me a split on what we stole, he knew I needed money. He promised there would be no police, the alarm would be cut. Long story short, we broke in and tripped the alarms. Essy’s inside man had choked up. Now we’re running from the police, and I really don’t want to go to juvi. My Papi would be rolling in his grave if he could see the trouble I’ve got myself in. “Be a good boy, my good boy,” he used to say.

I pump my arms and legs faster to keep up with Essy’s pace, I’m lagging behind. We’re in the industrial district now, and I have no idea where we’re headed. Sweat drips into my eyes as I run, blinding me.

“We’re almost there,” Essy says.

After a few more minutes we round a corner. Up ahead is a rundown factory that, according to its sign, used to produce children’s toys. What a strange place to go, I think. Why are we going there?

Our footfalls echo off the nearby buildings like gunshots as we hurry up to the factory; the sirens are getting closer. We finally stop at a door located on the side of the factory, and Essy pounds on the metal with his fist. As I’m wheezing for breath I notice Essy has barely broken a sweat. Maybe he’s needed to run a lot more than I thought. In a second there is a response to his knocking, and he mutters something to the guy on the other side, who then opened to door and welcomes us – well Essy mostly – in. Once the door is closed and locked, Essy and the burly guy who let us in embrace roughly for a second.

“Hola Essy, not getting into any trouble tonight are you?” the burly man laughs.

He notices me and gives me a slap on the back in greeting. “How’d you keep up to Speedy Gonzalez here? He’s one of the fastest runners we’ve got!”

“Uh, I don’t know, he kinda dragged me half way here,” I cough, still out of breath.

Essay laughs at my response. “Tizzy, this is Bronco. Bronco, Tizzy.”

Aptly named I think shaking Bronco’s meaty hand.

“C’mon Tizzy, I wanna show you where I work,” Essy says as he starts down a dark hallway. Bronco follows.

“You work here?” I ask as I slowly trail after them, “But this place looks abandoned. . .”

Essy and Bronco let out laughs that reverberate down the hallway, making me jump.

“Don’t you have any brains in that head o’ yours?” Bronco asks.

To be honest I don’t have a clue what one might do for work in a rundown factory, maybe use what machinery was left behind to make things to sell? As I’m staring at my shoes, pondering an answer, I smack into Bronco’s back. The two of them have stopped at the entrance to a huge room that smells heavily of . . .

“Marijuana?” I exclaim in astonishment.

Bronco slaps me on the back again, this time in excitement. “Now you’re getting’ it! We turn the green into green, get it?”

I did get it. When my family and I lived in Mexico City you’d hear stories about how people’s sons got mixed up in drug trafficking. It appealed to those who were broke and desperate for cash. My family was broke, but not desperate, and my parents wanted more for us, so they moved us to Los Angeles. How ironic it is to find myself in the very situation that we moved to get away from.

I step out from behind Bronco to take in the room. It is filled with rows upon rows of tables covered in cannabis. Between the rows are people tending to the plants, wearing rubber gloves and painting masks. Large fluorescent lights hang from the ceiling, illuminating the room with harsh yellow light. Abandoned machinery is pushed against the walls to make more room. As I look around I lock eyes with a girl tending to a section of cannabis. She is tan with long dark hair and scared eyes. She looks about nineteen, my age. She quickly glances away when Bronco moves from the doorway to sit in a chair a few feet away.

“Wow,” is all that comes out.

“We’ve got one of the biggest operations in LA” I hear a man’s voice say. Looking to my left I see a tall, stick man with a bald head covered in tattoos that continues down his neck and arms. I catch a glimpse of a gun tucked into his waistband. He extends his arm to shake my hand and his bicep bulges menacingly.

“Name’s Rodrigo, but call me Rigo, that’s what I go by around here,” he says.

I grab his hand and shake it, “Tizzy,” I reply.

Rigo looks over at Essy. “You had some heat at the job, huh?”

Essy crosses his arms over his chest, his muscles straining against his T-shirt. “Yeah, damn Alex didn’t do what we paid him to do. He’s gone with his money by now. Bastard.”

Rigo’s lips pulls into a sinister grin, a gold tooth glinting between his lips. “I’ll send my boys to find him, he won’t get far. No one double crosses Rigo and gets away with it.” He absentmindedly stroked his gun. I shuffle my feet nervously.

No one said anything about killing anyone. What’s Essy gotten himself into? I’ve got to get the hell out of here.

“Uh, Rigo, thanks for helping me out, but I’ve got to get home now. If you could just let me back out the way I came in that’d—“

“Whoa, whoa, whoa there. You can’t leave yet,” Rigo says.

“But I haven’t heard sirens in a while, the policia has left” I protest.

“It’s not safe to go yet. They search for hours before they give up. Just because you don’t hear sirens doesn’t mean they’re not out there. You two are hot right now.”


Essy interjects. “Rigo’s right. We’ve gotta lay low tonight.” He places his hand on my shoulder for reassurance.

After a moment’s hesitation I agree. What choice do I have? These weren’t exactly the kind of people you could just say no to and do your own thing. They have guns, and like people following their orders. I don’t want to end up like Alex soon would.

Rigo makes a chirping type of sound and jerks his head toward Essy and me. “Rosie, baby, show these two boys to a room.”

The girl who I had noticed earlier steps out from behind a bunch of fronds, her hands twisting nervously in front of her. She walks towards us, eyes on the floor, leaving a large berth between Rigo and herself. “Please follow me,” she says quietly.

She turns to take a step when Rigo grabs her elbow and pulls her close. With his free hand he grips her chin and squished her cheeks, then gives her a kiss and releases her.

I have to look away. Rigo kissing Rosie was like a python cuddling a mouse. Wrong and unnatural.

“This way” she says, and leads us down another dark hallway.


          I awake to Essy shaking my shoulder. “Tizzy man, we gotta go.”

I sit up and shake my head, yawning and groggy. Rosie had led us to a room that used to be for storage. I had had to shove discarded brooms and boxes into a corner to make room enough for Essy and me to curl up on the floor. He had found bubble wrap in one the boxes and spread it on out the floor, creating a sort of makeshift bed that made popping sounds every time someone tossed or turned. I hadn’t slept well.

“Man, I’m tired, can’t we leave in a few hours?”

Essy’s eyes flick from me to the door before he answers. Sweat glistens on his forehead. “We gotta go. I heard scuffling and shouts. The police must have found us.” He seizes my arm and hauls me up. “I know a way out, in the back.”

I am suddenly wide awake. “What about Bronco and Rigo, shouldn’t we go find them?”

Essy snorts, “They can look after themselves,” as he creeps to the door and shimmies it open, peeking out into the hallway. He motions me over and jerks his head to the left, mouthing the words ‘this way.’

I follow him into the hallway but grab his sleeve to stop him. I just remembered something. “What about Rosie?” I whisper.

Essy shrugs out of my grip. “What about her?”

“She doesn’t belong here. We have to help her.” I turn to start down the hallway, toward the growing room. But it’s Essy’s turn to grab my elbow, his face incredulous.

“What is she to you, Tizzy? She’s just some girl.”

Footsteps echo down the corridor and I can hear muffled voices. Essy glances down the hall and speaks quickly, looking displeased. “This place is crawling with policia, are you crazy?”

“I have to be, I helped you with that stupid break-in, didn’t I? Look, your right about the policia. There’s not much time, just tell me where Rosie should be and get out of here. I’ll find her and we’ll meet you somewhere okay?”

Essy looks strained. “You’re loco man.” He runs his fingers through his hair before he speaks. “Down the end of this hallway, take a left, follow it to the end. There’s a small window beside the exit door. Use the window, the door’s blocked off. Rosie should be in one of the sleeping rooms down there,” he points down the hall where footsteps can be heard, “If she hasn’t been caught already.”

“Thanks Essy. I owe you.”

“Tonight. We’ll meet at the Crescent Moon diner, seven o’clock. Good luck Tizzy.” He embraces me quickly and pulls away heading down the exit he told me about without a look back.

I turn and head the opposite direction, into the danger. The lights overhead are dim and turn off and on repeatedly. My sneakers squeak disconcertingly loud on the linoleum and my blood pounds in my ears.

I creep to where the hallway ends and the growing room begins. I hear voices, and when I peek my head around the corner I see several men in uniform. Many of the workers I saw earlier are handcuffed and sitting against the far wall. Bronco is among them. Rigo is nowhere to be seen.

“. . . Take your men and sweep the building” says one of the men, “We have reason to believe that the suspects from the break-in earlier this evening are hiding here.”

I hurry back down the hallway trying every door until one opens. “Rosie? Are you in here?”

I hear a soft cry, so I push my way into the room and close the door behind me. “Rosie? It’s me, Tizzy. You took my friend Essy and me to a room a few hours ago.” The room is dark so I step with my arms stretched out in front of me. I knock my knee into a crate and curse. “Rosie please, there are policia searching the place, I came to get you out of here.” After a moment of silence and groping in the darkness a small hand touches my shoulder.

“You came to get me?” Rosie asks.

I turn to face her. “Yes, we have to go now,” I whisper urgently. “We’re going to meet Essy at a diner.” I lean my ear against the door, making sure no one is searching this hallway yet. When I am sure the coast is clear, I open the door and lean out. Rosie grabs my arm.


I think about her question for a second before I answer. “Because you don’t belong here. Just like me.” I don’t give her time to answer, simple grab her hand and lead her out into the hallway.

We half walk half jog to the end of the hallway, Rosie’s small breaths are rapid behind me. Just as we turn left we hear “Stop” shouted behind us. I look back and catch a glimpse of two officers running down the hall towards us. I tighten my grip on Rosie and yell “Run.” Our footsteps ricochet off the walls.

“Stop now! There’s nowhere to go!” one of the officers calls.

We reach the exit door and I immediately go the window, trying desperately to prop it open, but it’s stuck. “Dammit,” I grunt. Rosie rushes over and pushes me out of the way, a brick in her hand. She throws it through the window and the glass shatters, raining everywhere.

“C’mon!” Rosie cries as the footsteps behind us get closer, someone fires a shot and it hits the wall few feet from me. I hoist Rosie up and through the window, she lands with a thump on the other side and I pull myself through after her. Another shot breaks glass above my head. It startles me and I cut my forearm on some jagged glass as I fall out the window and hit the ground with a thud.

Rosie pulls me roughly to my feet and then we’re running. It’s dark still, but pink and orange smudge the sky close to the horizon. The faint light casts shadows from the buildings across the pavement. We run and run until the factory has disappeared behind us and we’ve left the industrial district. A couple blocks into downtown I pull Rosie into an alley.

“I think we should be okay for a bit here,” I gasp, slumping against a building and slide to the ground, panting. Rosie sits down beside me. Her eyes widen when she sees blood on my shirt.

“You got shot,” she exclaims.

I look down at my shirt. “What? Oh, no. I cut my arm on some glass crawling out the window, see?” I hold out my arm to her, the long gash crimson against my skin.

“Let me look.” She grabs hold of my wrist and pulls a handkerchief from her pocket. “Does it hurt?”

I am about to say no, but when she dabs at the cut I grimace in pain. A couple glance down the alley as they walk by. When they see Rosie tending to my bloody arm they quicken their pace, whispering to each other.

“Hmm,” she says, “I don’t think there’s any shards left, but we need to disinfect it. You need stiches.”

“We can’t go to a hospital Rosie, I’m wanted.”

“Oh,” she says.

“We’ll have to figure something else out. Essy’s meeting us at the Crescent Moon diner at seven pm. We have the day to kill.”

Rosie’s eyes tighten the smallest bit when I mention the word ‘kill’. I don’t bring it up.

“I could fix your arm. I am very good at needlepoint. I could stitch it up.” She looks like she might throw up just thinking about it.

“Are you nuts?”

“Probably” she says, and shrugs, “But if you get an infection, you’ll need a hospital. And that’s the last place you want to be seen right now, right?”

I ponder this for a moment. “Alright,” I agree hesitantly.

She smiles as she hauls me to my feet, leading me out of the alley and onto the sidewalk. “Let’s go get some needle and thread. Oh, and some vodka too.”













A bit of insight

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So, we haven’t posted anything relating to our newest works lately so I decided to share a bit I wrote just this morning about our character, Em. This is her finding out something about herself and learning to embrace it.

My palms are slick and my stomach is in knots, but now more than ever I need to find a way out of here. I need to harness and use these powers I have…it’s the only option I have left.


get to know me

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Alrighty, let’s get to know our comic relief in “Unit 17.” He goes by the name of Nikki.

Kay hauls out the man and lays him on one gurney with a small grunt. “If you don’t need anything else, I’ll be retiring to my barrack now?” She says. She is still angry about Nikki and won’t be letting it go for a long time.

“Dismissed.” I watch her turn on her heels and go. She walks with the force of a tornado and she pulls off her fingerless leather gloves and throws them onto the ground under a floodlight before she disappears into the darkness.

Nikki, who’s just finished loading the woman onto the second gurney regards me with an abashed look. “She hates me doesn’t she?”

My mouth twists, searching for the right words. “She hates almost everyone. Don’t take it personally. It’s just because you’re the rookie that she’s going extra hard on you. That, and because she takes missions seriously. She doesn’t think you do.”

“But I do!” he protests, shoving his hands into his pockets. “I just have to get used to my powers you know. I’ve been thinking about it the whole ride here. I’m pretty sure because the kids were so close together, I registered them as one person. I’ll work on that.”

I grin a little as his self-assessment. “See? You can learn from your mistakes. You’ll do just fine.”

Three of the scientists guide the gurneys back up the steps and through the large double doors. Off to do whatever they do with Rejecteds. Teddy stands awkwardly at the foot of the stairs.

“You are dismissed Go get some rest, okay?”

Nikki smiles, obviously realizing he’s been forgiven. Nodding animatedly he says, “Sure thing, thanks Theo. I mean, sir.” He gives his best solute and jogs away.

“He’s got quite a lot of energy, hasn’t he?” Teddy says in his soft British accent when Nikki’s gone.

“That’s an understatement,” I chuckle.


get to know me

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Here’s a piece for you to get to know Kay from “Unit 17.”

The brakes of the truck groan as Kay rolls to a stop at the gate where a guard is stationed. Nikki sits in back with the cargo, banished there by Kay, who refused to have him ride shotgun. I turn in my seat as the guard, I recognize as Morrow, emerges from her tiny control booth. Her neon green hair is a stark contrast to her black jumpsuit.

“Howdy, Theo,” she smiles, “Kay.”

Kay dips her chin, but let’s me speak. I am the leader after all.


She holds a small tablet, which is used to keep track of who enters and exits the compound. It scans the truck and in seconds she has a tally of every living inside.

“Two Rejecteds acquired? And Nikki’s in the back?”

“That’s right.”

“Good job, Theo,” she says, her green hair blowing around her face as she leans in the driver’s side window. “How was it being unit leader?”

“I er… It was fine,” I say lamely, not wanting to get into specifics.

Morrow appears oblivious to my mood and continues on in a longing tone. “I wish they would let me off guard duty. I still haven’t gone on a Rejecteds assignment yet. Always just stupid stuff, like getting supplies, or picking up stranded units.” She lets out a sigh.

“Are you going to let us in already, or are you going to gripe about how you didn’t get any marshmallows in your Lucky Charms next?” Kay barks. I knew she could only put up with Morrow’s small talk for so long.

Morrow takes a few steps back from the truck, looking dejected. Tapping a few times on the tablet, the gate begins to roll back with a mechanical grind of gears. “You may proceed,” she says, like she’s said it about a thousand times, with just as little enthusiasm.

“Finally,” Kay mutters, steering us through the opening and towards the Center. I give her a look but don’t say anything. I find its better not to point out that she’s being rude, because then she turns on you, and that’s a whole other can of bitchy worms. I learned that from experience.


Get to know: Erin

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Collins and I are currently working on a new project that includes all of the best things. Action, superheros, romance, pranks and best friends. This is a section to help introduce our main heroine, Erin. Or Em as she is known to most of everyone.

The feeling that has been worming its way into my mind lately is nagging at me again. This has been happening since I was a child. No one ever took it seriously, no one except Theo. I shake my head at thoughts of him. I try not to take it seriously either. It’s never done me any good. Sometimes I can go months without the feelings, without the dreams.


Get to know me

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Turner and I are excited to start sharing some get to know me posts now. Here is a peek into one of the main characters named “Theo” from our new book titled “Unit 17.”

I have tried almost all the doors and am about to give up, thinking Nikki got the count wrong, when I hear a small cry come from behind a vending machine a few feet away near the window that Kay looked in. A small brown-haired girl peeks her head out from behind the machine, her eyes wide. I start toward her and she backs up to the wall, her fingers wrapping around the sill of the window. She couldn’t be more than fourteen.

She looks frantically around, her eyes wild with fear.

I lock my eyes on her and speak in a soothing tone. “There is no need to be afraid. I am not going to hurt you.”

Her breathing slows and she relaxes a little as my suggestion roots itself inside her brain.

“Good, that’s good. Now I’m just going to take you down to—“

I am passing by the vending machine when it topples over and crushes me beneath it, pinning my legs to the floor. I cry out in pain.

A boy a little older than the girl with angry eyes and a sneer emerges from behind the machine and darts towards the girl. He grabs her hand and snaps her out of my suggestion. I reach for my weapon then, but it is trapped between my hip and the machine. They barrel down the hallway, towards the stairwell that Kay has left unguarded.


“Nikki, Kay. There are two children running down the back stairs. Intercept them, now!”

“What?” Kay bellows, agitation clear in her voice.

“You heard me.”

My legs are in some serious pain right now, and I’m no Jax. I can’t just lift this thing off me like it’s nothing. I prop myself up on my elbows and look around. There’s a fire extinguisher I could use to get enough leverage to move my legs out but it’s attached to the wall where I can’t reach it. I’m stuck. And I look like a total idiot. So there’s that.

A few minutes later Kay and Nikki come running down the hall.

“Jesus!” Kay says.

“Just get this thing off me,” I say, trying to keep the embarrassment out of my voice.

Any insight into what you think this story is going to be about?


excerpt of the day

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I wanted to share with you peoples a glimpse from a story I’m working on called “The Oms.” I don’t often write extreme fantasy type stories, so let me know what you think!

The boy screams and I turn just in time to dodge the boar charging for us. I stoop to pick up a fallen branch and wield it like a sword. “Get out of here!” I yell at the boar, but it just bucks its head and digs its heels into the dirt.

I put the boy down and instruct him to climb the tree behind us. His eyes are wide but he quickly scurries up the trunk and nestles into the canopy. With the boy out of harm’s way, I can focus on the boar now. It steps from side to side, eying me from behind its large tusks. I retreat until my back hits the cool trunk of the tree the child hides in. I can’t climb the tree in time, the boar is only ten feet from me. I rack my mind for another way out of this as the boar squeals and charges me again. This time I let out a cry and strike out with the branch. It collides with the boar as the boar collides with me. I lay winded on the ground as the boar writhes over top of me, its tusks twisted around the branch I use to hold it at bay.

Suddenly the boar lets out a whine and yellows sparks rain down around me. Its body spasms once and then the frightened creature bolts into the flora. I am left holding the branch and toss it to the side, panting for breath. Yellow sparks are still visible suspended in the air above me. I watch as they blink out one by one.

“Are you alright?” A voice asks.

I freeze as the adrenaline dissipates from my body, and the stupidity of what I just did rushes through my mind. I just crossed the boundary line, I could have been killed by a boar. What was I thinking? Sitting up I hesitantly glance to where the voice came from. “I think I’ll be fine,” I say, my voice cracking on the last word as I realize who I’m talking to. The only people out here are…

The boy who spoke turns his attention to the tree where the child remains hidden. With no effort, like a butterfly taken by the wind, he lifts off the ground and floats up to where the child is hiding. “There you are, Findal. I was looking everywhere for you, but it looks like this girl found you before I could.”

Oms. My mouth falls open in shock. I don’t know whether to run or scream or cry or run for the boundary line. I settle for sitting in stunned silence.

The child, Findal, leaps into the boy’s arms and he floats back down as gently as a leaf. “What where you doing with a boar?” The boy scolds, “You can’t even use magic properly yet.” Findal is still too scared to speak and just trembles in response. “I take it you’ve learned your lesson then.”

Once the boy touches ground again, he sets Findal down and without hesitation, Findal runs into the forest, disappearing into the greenery. The boy sets his sights on me and I shrink a little, though his gaze isn’t menacing. He doesn’t wear much, just a pair of earthen slacks. A leather belt is fastened around his waist and from the belt, small pouches are fastened. A dagger is tucked into the belt against his hip. A large round yellow stone hangs from his neck on twine. His hair is wild and brown and waves around his ears, just brushing his bare shoulders. His expression becomes amused as he rolls his eyes. “Yes, he’s fine,” he mutters. He looks to me again. “Sorry, you must think I’m crazy. I’m not talking to myself, I swear.”

“You’re an Om,” I say quietly, voicing my realization.

“That I am. And you’re… not.” He says, a lilt in his voice. He strides over to me and offers his hand. “You’re a Small.”

I glance from his serene face to his outstretched hand and back again.

“I won’t hurt you,” he says, mildly.

After a moment I take his hand and he pulls me up.

He crosses his arms and cocks his head to the side. “I’ve never met a Small before, much less a brave Small.”

“We aren’t brave,” I say. We’re not supposed to be.

“Really? What would you call hopping the boundary line into the Mekokan Forest and saving a child from a wild boar then?”

I shrug my shoulders. “Stupid.”

“Maybe.” he says, “Why did you do it?” he asks, a curious note in his voice.

I stare at the ground, twisting my hands together. “I didn’t think. I just saw that little boy in trouble and I just took off. My parents are going to kill me.” I sigh.

He chuckles and the sound is musical. “Only if they find out.”


Quote of the day

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“Sometimes an understanding silence was better than a bunch of meaningless words.” – Mia Sheridan, Archers Voice

This quote is from one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors. In my life, words are everything. Words have the power to make or break someone and I want to be vigilant in how I use them. And as the quote states…there are times when words aren’t needed. When an understanding, when an acceptance of someone or something is all it takes.


get to know me

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Today, let’s meet two guys Stef is meeting for the first time in “Betrayal Comes First.” They are sure to make an impression.

“Hey, the name’s Uno,” the first guy says.

“Hi,” I manage, trying not to look at his face.

“Don’t worry about offending me by looking at the eye patch.”

“Oh I wasn’t,” I fib. It appears I’m going to be doing a lot of lying tonight.

“Dude, she totally wants to know what happened!” The second guy, Ollie, says.

“No really, you don’t have to . . .”

“Tell her, man,” Ollie coerces. “It’s so nasty!”

“Okay, okay, Ollie.” Uno looks at me. “So I was in this brutal knife fight, and I was winning, ask anyone who was there.  I got this dude by the scruff of the neck, then all of a sudden the son of a bitch pulls a razor blade from his back pocket and stabs it right into my eye. There was blood all over the place and my eye was hanging by the optic nerve –“

Thankfully a voice interrupts before Uno can conclude his story. I am feeling a little green.

“Uno, as much as you love telling that story, maybe you should save it for another day.”


get to know me

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For this installment, let’s get to know Stef’s step-brother Lazlo from “Betrayal Comes First.” He’s a charmer, I assure you.

We almost make it to my room without incident. Almost.

“Did I hear someone talking about me?”

“Go away Lazlo.”

Lazlo glides out of his room and sidles up beside me, close enough to make me uncomfortable. Closer than a step brother should get. He plays with a lock of my hair. I swat his hand away and glare up at him.

Cyn steps between Lazlo and I, creating a barrier. “Don’t you have something better to do? Like, I don’t know, burn ants with a magnifying glass? That sounds like something you would do.” Lazlo snorts in reply.

Unfortunately, Lazlo is the baggage our family inherited when my father made the mistake of marrying Maria just over a year ago. She had him when she was sixteen, and he’s been spoiled since day one. He’s an egocentric, grade-A jerk, who has no moral boundaries. His slick black hair and dark eyes give him all the allure of a great white.

He side-steps Cyn, reaching around her, placing his hands on my waist. I quickly maneuver myself out of his grasp. “Just leave me alone.”

He raises his hands in mock surrender. “Why so uptight? Can’t a brother show his sister some love?” His voice is razors coated in syrup, sweet, with danger lurking beneath.

“Not that kind of love, brother.”

See? Didn’t I say he was just the greatest?