Prologue from Cam
The room is dimly lit, and I’m almost choking on the smoke from Jerry’s fat cigar. It looks like it’s more for show as I rarely see him inhaling. The lack of light serves to make the room look better than it is. Shabby chic is an improvement on what I see when I look too closely into the shadows. Jerry may think he’s the big man, but I see through the façade. He’s a wannabe, a guy who thinks he’s a player, surrounding himself with some tattooed muscle to make him look important. If it wasn’t for his family connections he’d be a nobody, but his uncle runs the local area and puts up with him for his mother’s sake.
His almost non-existent neck is encased in gaudy, thick gold chains whilst his chubby fingers sport large gold rings that barely fit. With his dinner suit and a dark shirt that strains across his ample belly I’m reminded of a bad seventies porn movie. The stubble on his triple chin is too long to be trendy and too short to be worthy of being called a beard. It’s scruffy and unattractive. His fat bushy eyebrows overshadow narrow beady eyes. A dark fedora balances atop his greasy sable hair, a triple black gingham ribbon loosely wrapped around the base.
The girl hovering behind his chair is worth a second glance or three. She’s stunning, or she would be if she didn’t look so numb. She has long ash blonde hair that flows gracefully over her shoulders. I can’t quite make out her eyes in this light, they could be grey I guess, but there’s no spark in them. Her slender figure is encased in a sheer white robe that reveals simple white underwear.
She exudes class and innocence, a total contrast to Jerry. A long fine gold chain attached to a leather cuff binds her forearm, the other end secured around Jerry’s wrist. After a few hands have been dealt he yanks on the chain pulling her closer. Drawing her face down to his he runs his tongue along her cheek before whispering obscenities too loudly in her ear. He wants the rest of us in the room to hear him. She’s no more than an accessory to him, just like the ostentatious but gauche jewelry he’s adorned himself with. She’s a good actress, but I don’t miss the shiver of disgust every time his flesh comes into contact with hers. What the hell is she doing here?
I’m beginning to regret being drawn into the card game, but it was a way of relieving the boredom of the bike ride back home. Normally I love being out on the bike, but after our recent action in Severed everything feels like an anti-climax. I’ve won a few hands and lost a few. Jerry’s no match for me. All those nights in Afghanistan helped me hone my poker skills. I’m not bragging when I say I’m good, good enough to go professional if I wanted. Jerry is cocky, but his arrogance is going to cost him. I’ve lulled him into a false sense of security and he’s starting to gamble heavily now. I’ve made enough deliberate mistakes to convince him I’m an amateur. I’m going to enjoy bringing the arrogant shit down.
I hold back a growl as he once again yanks the girl to him, this time pawing at her breasts which are barely contained in the flimsy clothing he has her wearing. “Do you like my new toy?” he asks the table.
There are four of us playing poker tonight. It’s an illegal game as Jerry is keeping the buy-in, it’s not being returned to the winner. The other two are tired looking businessmen who seem to be a little too in awe of Jerry. I’m guessing it’s a scam he runs instead of a more traditional protection racket. They come play and walk away empty handed. I can see that they’re deliberately playing bad hands.
Jerry gestures to the girl, telling us that she’s a new arrival to his ‘stable’ that he’s looking forward to breaking in after the game. Right now, I want to punch the arrogant prick in the throat. “If you’re interested I’ll offer you a good price for her when I’m finished” he gloats. Fuck me. The guys a pimp as well as an arsehole. He introduces her as Sahara, an unusual name I’m sure he’s made up to suit his little fantasy. Meanwhile the expression has left her face altogether, the more he talks, the more withdrawn she becomes.
We play a few more games, some I win, some I lose. The more I lose the more Jerry drinks, his confidence and arrogance increasing with each shot of whisky. He’s playing right into my hands.
Finally, I spot my opportunity. The stupid fuck has no poker face and I can see the grin he tries to hide when he’s dealt the next hand. I deliberately grimace then try to disguise it when I look at my hand, and he falls for it. By now we’re about evenly matched in money on the table. He places the last of his money down, he’s all in.
I take my opportunity. “How about we make this a little more interesting?” I place my bike keys on the table. Jerry was enthralled with my bike when I arrived, although I’m pretty sure he’s never ridden one, he’s probably too heavy to be able to balance my Triumph although he might get away with a Harley. He looks at his hand again. He’s so confident it’s the winner that he makes a ridiculous bet. He offers the girl, his shiny new toy for the evening. I’m a better player than he realizes, I know I’ve got an unbeatable hand.
“How does that work?” I’m curious.
“I own her,” he responds smugly. “You win, then you own her.” He states it so simply. I have to resist the urge to smash his face in. His haughtiness is misplaced, his ignorant manner rubbing me up the wrong way.
It’s time to show our hands, Jerry goes first, and his arrogant grin gets even bigger as he places his cards fanned out, face up on the table. One by one a straight flush of hearts appears, 5,6,7,8 and 9.
His grin stays there, right until I place my last card down. The ace of spades completing my Royal Flush, then it changes to a look of anger.
He pulls Sahara to him, yanking the gold chain violently. “You’re mine,” he practically spits into her face. “I’m not giving up what’s mine.”
“A bet’s a bet, I’d like to take my winnings now.” I stand from the table, pocketing the cash, my voice firm but polite. Casually I ease back my jacket showing the gun I have holstered on my side. His bodyguards are too slow to respond, I’ve already placed the barrel of the gun against his sweating forehead before they’ve had a chance to draw their weapons. With my free hand I motion to Sahara to release herself from the cuff. She seems to take forever. When she’s done I toss her the leather jacket from the back of my chair.
“We’ll be leaving now. I’d be grateful if you’d escort me out, Jerry. It’s only polite after all.” With my gun still aimed at him I gesture to Jerry to rise from his seat. His face is a mask of fury, but he does as he’s told.
Within moments we’re out back of the building where I’ve parked my bike. With one hand aiming the gun at Jerry I start the bike with the other. Sahara looks reluctant to climb on behind me until I tell her it’s her only option if she doesn’t want to be left behind. That gets a reaction. She’s got goosebumps in the cool night air, and I’m reluctant to take her on the bike considering the lack of clothing she has on. She’s still carrying my jacket. I gesture for her to put it on, but she’s taking too long. As I help her into it, swapping the gun from hand to hand gives Jerry a false sense of security and he tries to make a move on us. I’m too quick for him, firing a shot into the dust at his feet. He stalls his advance, all the while swearing and threatening us, promising he’ll hunt us down and kill me. His goons still hover in the doorway of the building waiting for me to lower my gun, so they can take their chance.
Pulling my mobile from my shirt pocket I speed dial Declan. This situation is out of control, and I’m going to need him to help me make peace with Jerry’s uncle.
“Declan, you know when we said we’d be there for each other if needed? You meant it right?”
“Of course I did, Cam” Declan answers. “What’s wrong?”. He sounds concerned.
“Declan, I need you.” No sooner have I spoken the words than one of the bodyguards fires a shot at us, he misses but it’s a little too close for comfort. With the gun still in my left hand I’m left with no choice but to drop the phone, so I can throttle the bike and get us out of here.
** Coming 31st August from Ava Manello – Cam (Wounded Heroes #2) **
Luckily for her one of them is Cam. He vows to keep her safe from harm. Little do they know how hard that promise will be to keep. With no hope of escape Cam calls on Declan and his fellow Wounded Heroes for assistance.
What follows is a crazy, violent adventure that could cost them all their lives. But then, these are the Wounded Heroes, and they’ve never shied away from a conflict before.
Can be read as a standalone or as book two in the series.