Come (Dirty, Dark, and Deadly #1)


by J.A. Huss

Chapter One

JAMES

Even if I wasn’t looking…

Even if I wasn’t watching…

Even if I wasn’t obsessed…

There’s no way in hell I could miss her.

The beach is packed. It’s Saturday afternoon. And even though it’s a hot June, today is Orange County perfect. Seventy-eight degrees at eight PM and just enough wind to make her golden tresses dance around her heart-shaped face. The waves are just big enough to keep the surfers entertained as she eats her fast-food dinner from the steps at Pier Plaza. The sunset, a red mixed with orange that lines the horizon far off in the distance, sets a scene with warm light that falls across her bronze body.

It’s the perfect evening. But this girl is the only thing I see.

I’ve watched her for three months. She comes to the beach twice a day. Once in the early morning, just before Huntington Beach Pier opens. She does some crazy routine that probably does zero for her conditioning, that’s how easy it looks. Not easy for most. Easy for her. This routine—it’s probably something she’s been doing since she was a kid.

She comes out again each evening. More fast food, eats on the Pier Plaza steps. More sea-watching. Even if there aren’t surfers out there to entertain her, the Pacific Ocean is what occupies her mind.

She pays attention to everything. Everyone who walks by. She never talks to anyone. If the skaters on the bike path hanging out in front of the steps get too close, she leaves. If they engage her, she turns her head. They call her names sometimes, but she’s either deaf or very well-trained.

She’s not deaf.

I know she’s not deaf.

I know where she lives.

I know she’s hiding.

I know I’m the last person she wants to see.

I know she sleeps in boy short underwear and a tank top.

I know she has anxiety issues because she keeps a bottle of pills in her bathroom.

I know she never takes those pills. I count them. But every time I check, the bottle has been moved. So I know she thinks about them often enough to want to hold the bottle.

I know she has a phone. But I also know she never uses it. I’ve checked the minutes. It never changes. I know how much money she has, what’s inside her fridge. I know she touches herself at night sometimes. And she moans as she comes, her back arching for a second.

I know she’s sad and she fights it off. I’ve read her journal pages. It’s not really a diary. She writes the pages each night, then goes to bed, wakes, reads them. Then burns them in the kitchen sink before she starts her AM routine.

They always say the same thing. Please hurry. Please come to me. Please find me. Please don’t forget me. Please, please, please, do not leave me here all alone.

I know a lot about her but I don’t know her name. Or who she’s waiting for. I have an idea, but that might be wishful thinking. I don’t know why she’s here. Or why I’m here, for that matter. I’m as unsure about all those things as she is that this absent prince will come save her.

But I’m certain of one thing.

This girl?

She is mine.

I’m the one who came to her. I’m the one who found her. I’ll be the one to keep her.

Chapter Two

HARPER

“What’s your name?”

The voice startles me because I had no idea anyone else was at the end of the pier with me. The waves are large this morning and they crash hard enough against the pillars below to envelop me in a mist of seawater. I don’t turn to face him. He has a smooth rumbling voice that tingles my insides and for a moment, I sense I’ve heard it before. I picture the kind of man attached to it. Someone big. Someone young, but not as young as me. I continue to scan the horizon, staring out at the Pacific Ocean, waiting for the sunrise. It’s mere moments away and I hate that he’s interrupting my sunrise.

“Hello? Name?” he asks again.

He’s someone used to getting an answer when he asks a question. He’s someone with authority, but not a cop or a sanctioned soldier. Cops have that it’s-nothing-personal-and-you’re-boring-the-shit-out-of-me-so-just-give-me-answers tone. Soldiers who get paid by legitimate governments would not give a shit about me. So he’s not in the military. I grew up listening to voices of authority, taking note on the ones who inspire, the ones who cower, and the ones you need to fear. This guy’s voice says he never cowers.

He’s one of us. I know this immediately, with only those few words, I know. This is it.

I give none of this away, simply continue with my quest to see the blue line where the sea meets the sky when the first light of day hits it. Why can’t people just leave me alone?

“Woman,” he growls at me as he takes a few steps closer. He’s barefoot, I can tell by the way his feet scrape across the concrete pier as he walks. My heart flutters for a few seconds and I wonder if he’ll hurt me. Would he be allowed to hurt me? I’ve imagined my capture happening a million ways, but not this way.

Am I ready?

A hand rests on my right shoulder, gripping slightly as if to turn me around. This is a trigger for me. I don’t want him to see my face.

I grab his wrist with both hands, bend over, and reach back with my foot and wind my ankle around his. I heave and do a very sloppy toss because he’s far heavier than anyone I’ve practiced this move on. He sorta tumbles off to the side instead of actually being flung over my shoulder, but that extra moment is all I need.

I climb the railing of Huntington Beach Pier and dive into the mist.

I hit the dark sea with a small splash and then the muted underwater sound of crashing waves fills my head. I continue the arc of my entrance through a powerful swell, and then somersault and circle back, kicking off my shoes as I go. I resurface underneath the pier, get rag-dolled by an incoming wave, and crash headfirst into a concrete pillar.

The pain shoots through my head and my body shuts down to take a moment to deal.

My instincts are slow, my hesitation a mistake I might not live to regret, and then I open my mouth and take a breath before I can stop the reflex. I choke underwater, taking in more liquid, and then shoot upwards to the small glint of light in the approaching dawn.

A hand grabs my ankle and I swallow water this time instead of taking it in my lungs. I kick, but my body is overwhelmed and confused trying to deal with multiple life-threatening situations. I give in and allow myself to be pulled back towards him.