I asked for help on Facebook with the title for my newest book and a few people said that they thought At Last (Think Etta James) would be awesome. I agree! So to celebrate picking a title, here's the first chapter. Enjoy, my friends!
Chapter 1- Roommates
Maya looked over her shoulder one last time before putting her groceries in the back of her car as a cold feeling crept over her. She wasn’t sure if the constant feeling of paranoia was her instincts trying to keep her safe, or if she was in fact, finally going crazy. She sighed tiredly and slammed the trunk down before returning the cart. She scanned the parking lot of the grocery store again as she reached for her keys and spotted a dark shadow moving away from the light by the corner of the building and paused with a frown. She swallowed nervously and hurried back to her car. It was probably nobody she knew.
But then again …
Paranoid or not, it was better to be safe than sorry. She locked her car doors as soon as she got in and drove quickly out of the parking lot and out onto the road with a squeal of tires. It had been a month since she’d kissed Pule Matafeo because she’d been certain Carter had found her. The very next day Pule’s police car had been trashed. Unfortunately, Posey Tyler had been arrested for destruction of a Police Vehicle. Maya snorted at the thought of Posey taking spray paint to Pule’s car and sticking a switch blade in his tire. The girl was head over heels in love with the Pule. Everyone had assumed Posey had lost it out of jealousy because she’d seen her kiss Pule, but there was no way a little quiet thing like Posey would turn to violence.
Not, that had been all Carter.
She shivered silently as she automatically touched her lips. Violence came so easily to some people. And violence came especially easy to Carter Ellison. They’d only been together four months when he hit her the first time. She’d broken up with him immediately and threatened to call the cops on him if he came near her again, but he’d wheedled his way back into her life and she still couldn’t figure out how he’d done it. Two months later, he lost his temper again and gave her a black eye. At that point, she smartened up and told her family and her friends and the police what was going on. She had put a restraining order on him, but that had just enraged him and he’d come after her while she was walking home after a night out with her friends. She’d ended up with three broken ribs, assorted cuts and abrasions and a concussion because he’d kicked her repeatedly in the head. If a neighbor hadn’t heard her screams and called the police, she’d be dead.
Maya drove through the streets of Fircrest and smiled cynically at the quaint little town and all of the happy people who walked through life feeling safe and free. Would she ever feel safe again? She’d started to. After moving to Fircrest six months ago, she’d thought she’d gotten away from Carter. She’d left Dallas behind and hadn’t looked back. She purposefully picked a small little town far away so Carter would never find her. All she wanted to do was live in peace.
But in her bones, she knew he’d tracked her down.
Maya pulled in front of her Condo she rented month to month and tried to get a grip on herself. Living in fear constantly was draining emotionally and physically and she was so tired of being scared. She glanced behind her, to see if she’d been followed and then hurried out of her car, grabbing her groceries and running up the stairs to her door. She heard the sound of a car driving slowly down the street and refused to turn around. She felt the hairs on the back of her neck stick up as she fumbled with her keys in her haste to get inside. She could feel the powerful engine of the car directly behind her and pushed the door open, slamming it shut and locking it as she began to gasp with fear. She hurried to the window and pushed the curtain aside. The car she’d felt and heard behind her was idling right in front of her condo. She couldn’t see through the tinted windows but she could feel that someone was looking at her.
Maya covered her mouth with her hand and backed away from the window. She hadn’t been able to convince Pule that Carter had been the one to vandalize his car. She couldn’t prove that Carter was the man in front of her condo now. But her gut was telling her she was in danger and she refused to ignore her instincts anymore. The last time she had, she’d ended up in the hospital.
She picked up her bag of groceries and walked unsteadily into her kitchen. If she was right, and it was Carter, he knew where she lived and what’s more, he wanted her to know that he knew. Scaring her to death and driving her insane was probably part of his plan. If that was the case, she didn’t have much time before he made his move. It would be so easy for him to break into her house and all she had to protect herself was a little piece of paper that hadn’t stopped him last time and some mace. She put the milk away and then sat down, suddenly too tired to put the rest of her groceries away. She rested her head in her hands and felt a wave of hopelessness surround her.
What she wouldn’t give to feel safe again. She closed her eyes and gave in to the despair that threatened to drown her. She reached for her phone to call her mom and then pulled her hand back. No. She refused to worry her mother any more than she already had. She could call one of her friends back home. They would understand. They’d seen her in the hospital and knew what Carter was capable of. But in the back of her mind, she knew that someone had to have told Carter where she’d moved to and she wasn’t sure who she could trust anymore.
She could call Pule and tell him about being followed home except she wasn’t sure he suspected her of making Carter up just to get close to him. Her face burned with embarrassment at the way she’d thrown herself at Pule all with the end result in mind of being protected by him. She hadn’t wanted a boyfriend. She’d wanted a body guard. And he’d seen through her from the very beginning and had run as fast as he could into Posey’s arms.
She sighed and ran her hands through her long, brown hair and stared at the ceiling. First things first, she couldn’t stay here anymore. She glanced around the apartment she’d grown to love and felt like crying. As a teenager girl, she’d been so strong and fearless and now, here she was running for her life and living in fear. She swallowed the bitter shame and pulled her laptop over.
She pulled up the local classified and looked over the available apartments. She wanted to stay in Fircrest so she could be close to work. There were only five apartments available in Fircrest and three of them were out of her price range. She groaned as she read the next one. Must love cats since I have seven. Nope. She closed her eyes before looking at the last apartment ad.
Need a roommate. Can’t be weird. Can’t be a drug addict and can’t have cats. I like things quiet and by quiet, I mean someone who likes to play X-box and watch all the movies I like. I don’t mind sharing my food if you clean the bathroom. Interested? Call Tristan. You can move in immediately.
Maya grinned at the ad and reached for her phone. Immediately worked for her. She dialed the number and waited impatiently while it rang four times.
Maya frowned at the masculine voice. She could have sworn Tristan was a girl’s name. “Uh, I saw the ad online for the apartment. Is this Tristan?” she asked, as she began to chew on her thumbnail.
The man sighed on the other line before answering. “Yeah, this is Tristan and no, Tristan is not a girl’s name. Look it up. Tristan and Isolde. Great literature.”
Maya groaned and leaned her head in her hands. “Dang it. I really needed this apartment,” she said, feeling the tightening in her throat as she fought back sudden tears.
“I don’t care if you’re a girl. You can come look at the apartment right now since I’m here. I’ve got practice in an hour though so it’s now or never. I’ve got someone else coming to check out the apartment tomorrow morning. First one with the deposit wins,” he said, yawning loudly into the phone.
Maya blinked back the moisture and sat up straight. “Wait, seriously? You’d be okay with a girl for a roommate?”
Tristan blew out a breath as if he was bored with the conversation. “It doesn’t bother me. If it bothers you, then I’m sure there are plenty other apartments out there.”
Maya tapped her fingers on the table. Should she? It might be nice having a guy as a roommate. She could kill two birds with one stone. Carter would think she was living with a boyfriend and might back off. She made up her mind.
“Give me your address. I’ll come over right now,” she said in a strong voice as she smiled.
Tristan gave her the address and hung up without even saying goodbye. Maya stared at her phone and shrugged. Her future roommate was a little grumpy. All the better. She grabbed her keys and her purse and hurried outside, looking up and down the street for the car that had followed her. She followed the directions but gave up ten minutes later and used her maps app on her phone to find the place. She drove down towards the Puget Sound and felt a little excitement slip in. An apartment by the water would be incredible. She turned down a gravel road and stopped in front of an older house that looked like it had been built in the seventies. The flat roof and the glass made her smile as she got out and lifted her face to the salty air.
She rang the doorbell and glanced around, noting the flowers and trees and bushes. The man might be grumpy but he obviously loved beautiful things and took care of them. The door opened suddenly and she blinked in surprise. He looked familiar. Very familiar. She frowned as she looked him up and down, noting that he had to be at least six feet two inches. His bright blond hair was cut super short and he’d grown a short beard, but there was no mistaking those silver eyes.
“You’re Meredith’s brother, aren’t you? I’ve seen you at a couple rugby games and at the diner. We’ve met before,” she said, frowning in disappointment.
Tristan looked back at her coolly as he crossed his arms over his chest. “Yeah, I’m Meredith’s brother and you’re the yoga instructor who’s after Pule, right?”
Maya blushed and flipped her hair over her shoulder as she lifted her chin. “Good luck finding a roommate. I’ve decided I’m not interested,” she said with as much dignity as she could and then turned and walked away, taking out her car keys and cursing the day she’d come to Fircrest.
“Not so fast.”
Maya paused and looked over her shoulder. “What?”
Tristan leaned in his doorway and narrowed his eyes at her. “You came all this way, you might as well look at the place.”
Maya raised an eyebrow and smiled. “You have a rule against cats and I have a rule against jerks. No thanks,” she said and sighed as she realized she’d have to start looking for a new place in Tacoma. She hated driving through Tacoma’s busy traffic with a passion but it would be worth it if she could feel safe.
“Look, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that about Pule. I get how women can get hung up over a guy and not think straight. I won’t bring up your love life. Really, you can come look at the place and I won’t say a word.”
Maya frowned and turned around slowly as she stared at the man. He had some goofy smile on his face as if he wasn’t used to smiling and wasn’t sure how to do it anymore. He looked all stiff and weird.
“What’s really going on? Who’s coming to look at the place tomorrow?” she asked.
Tristan sighed and ran a hand through his bright hair. “An old college roommate who drives me nuts. He drinks, he smells and he was always having people over. I like things quiet.”
Maya rolled her eyes and considered it. The man was grumpy and rude but that might work to her advantage if Carter ever tried to come to the door. And he was huge. Carter was only five feet ten and Tristan would intimidate anyone. Maybe she should check it out.
“Fine,” she said half-heartedly and walked back to the house.
Tristan’s face relaxed, not into a smile, but something that could be a close relative. “Welcome to my home,” he said as he moved back so she could walk through the door.
Maya blinked to adjust her eyes as she walked down the hallway and into a large open area that made up the family room, eating area and kitchen.
“I knocked down a few walls to open the space up,” Tristan said, as he flipped on a few lights.
Maya noted the hardwood floors and the warm yellow walls and smiled. “You have good taste. It’s very inviting.”
Tristan’s mouth quivered on the side and Maya watched in curiosity wondering if the man was incapable of smiling. She walked over to the French doors that led out to the back yard. She opened the door and stepped out onto a large patio and gasped.
“Your view,” she whispered as she held a hand over her heart.
Tristan moved to stand next to her and they stood in silence as they watched the boats skim across the water of the Puget Sound. “I spend a lot of time out here,” he said pointing to the comfortable lounge chairs.
Maya walked over to the railing and lifted her face to the wind as she closed her eyes and felt something she hadn’t felt in a while. Good. She felt good, standing out here so close to the water and the sky.
“I’m actually tempted now,” she said, opening her eyes and smiling.
Tristan shrugged. “You haven’t even seen the room yet.”
Maya blinked in surprise. “It’s nice?”
Tristan turned and walked back into the house and she was forced to follow him. He led her back down a different hallway to a large room with pale blue walls and a crystal chandelier. There was a large, iron bed and an heirloom quilt that had her running her hand over the soft cotton. She turned and noted the antique dresser and the pictures on the wall that were photographs.
She walked over and stared at the pictures of mountains and trees and turned to look at Tristan questioningly. “Yours?”
Tristan nodded. “It’s my hobby.”
Maya blinked in surprise and had to admit that there was more to this surly guy than she’d thought. “This room, this house… it’s amazing. But I’m curious. Why do you need a roommate? I mean, this house is gorgeous and you’ve obviously spent a lot of time and energy and money on it. Why in the world would you want some stranger to invade your personal space?”
Tristan’s eyes went dark and gray as he looked away from her. “A few reasons. I have a dog and she needs more company than me. That, and my parents are worried that I don’t interact with other humans enough. They worry. And the rent money is going towards a boat I want to buy.”
Maya laughed. “Just get a loan like everyone else does. You’re really going to save the money before buying something you want?”
Tristan rolled her eyes. “I’ve seen a lot of my friends declare bankruptcy in the past few years. They all had the same theory on money as you do. I’m a little old fashioned, but then again, I own my own house and my car. Do you?”
Maya cleared her throat and looked away. She had a few credit cards and she probably, definitely needed to be better with money.
“Okay, I get it. You’re a recluse with a bad attitude and a tight hold on his pennies. Can I move in tonight?”
Tristan blinked in surprise. “Really? You want to move in?”
Maya glanced at the bed and then out the large bay window and smiled a little. “I do. Where’s the contract?”
Tristan didn’t smile but his eyes warmed briefly as he turned and walked out of the room. Maya walked over and stared out the window for a moment before following him. Two hours later she was unpacking her clothes as she docked her phone and listened to I’m like a bird by Nelly Furtado.
(c) Copyrighted Material 2015