First time reading? Start at the beginning here.
JB sat on the dusty chair and listened to the sound of rain hitting the roof. Thunder rolled occasionally in the distance, and wind made the old house creak and moan. It was deceptively peaceful, and he enjoyed it while he could. He especially enjoyed that he was sitting in the warm, dry house while Cleto had been sent outside to dump a body in the lake.
“Hey, kid,” said the Black Valentine. “I found where my dad stashed the wine bottles. You want some?”
JB thought about ignoring her. He was still angry, but there was no denying that talking to her was about a hundred percent better than interacting with anybody else around. She only pretended to care about him, but at least she put in that much effort. Nobody else even bothered to pretend.
“Sure,” he said. Then he felt suddenly cold. “Wait. Your dad’s here?”
“No. He owns the house, though. Stocked it up with some pretty good vintages, too.”
She pressed a cool, smooth glass into his hand. JB took a sip, finding a dry white wine that was actually pretty decent. He’d gotten a lot better at telling apart good wines from bad ones since he started underage drinking. Maybe it would come in handy one day. It would be nice to have a useful skill to put on his resume now that he’d essentially dropped out of school. He could be a bartender or something.
Yeah, right. Outliving Blueblood and getting a normal job was a fantasy. As long as he was dreaming, he might as well picture being an astronaut.
“You want to move into the living room?” Val asked. “I could put on the TV or the radio or something.”
“No,” JB said. Cleto had punched him hard in the stomach a couple of days ago, leaving him curled up on the floor and struggling to breath. It didn’t hurt as much as it had then, but he could feel it whenever he stood up or sat down–or moved much at all, really. He was perfectly happy just sitting in his chair.
“He won’t do that again. I promise.”
Val’s voice was lower and huskier than usual, and JB realized she’d read his mind again.
“Stop doing that,” he snapped. “And you can’t promise me anything.”
“I can fix it—his head. I’ll make it so he doesn’t want to hurt you anymore.”
The lingering taste of wine in JB’s mouth turned sour. “Why?” he asked. “Why help me when you— You’re the one who brought me here. You can’t have it both ways. I don’t—” JB shook his head. He wasn’t even making sense to his own ears.
Val was silent for a long moment. “This is better than working for Pretty Boy Jeffries, isn’t it?”
JB stiffened. “Do you know why I went to work for him?”
Val didn’t answer. Then—
“Sorry,” she said. “I was shaking my head. I don’t know. I can read your mind and find out, or you can tell me, if you want.”
JB took a deep breath. He didn’t know if he wanted to tell her, not really. He just….
“My abilities—people call it having visions of the future, but they’re wrong.” He ran his fingers along the lip of the wine glass, thinking. “I don’t see the future. I was born blind. Even if I had a ‘vision,’ my brain wouldn’t know how to interpret it. What I get—it’s more like a flash of awareness. I know what will happen and what leads up to it, but I’m in the moment, too. I can hear things and smell things and feel things.”
He took another sip of wine to buy time to steady himself. “I shouldn’t have registered my abilities with the government. I know you don’t have to, but my parents wanted me to get the support I needed, and… Jeffries found out about me somehow. I got a flash before he came for me. I—”
JB’s hands were shaking. If his glass had been any fuller, wine would have sloshed over his fingers. “I could hear my mom screaming. I felt my dad’s warm blood where he—” JB swallowed. “I knew what Jeffries would do to get me to join his gang, so I didn’t give him the chance. I went to him first.”
JB slumped, feeling emptier now that the words had left him. He’d never told anybody that, not even his parents before he’d left. They would have only tried to stop him.
“Your parents must be good people,” Val said softly, “for you to be willing to do that for them.”
JB shrugged. They’d been able to visit briefly after he’d gotten arrested, but he didn’t want to remember that. His mom had barely been able to speak through her tears.
“I wouldn’t—” Val started, but then someone’s approach cut her off.
“Evelyn’s on the phone.” It was Blueblood’s voice, and JB had been around him long enough to detect the subtle growl that meant he was in a very bad mood.
Val went with him, leaving JB alone in the room again. His powers only predicted things that directly affected him, but there were so many times he wished they worked for other people, too. If he was the Black Valentine, he wouldn’t want to go anywhere near Blueblood when he was in a mood like that.
JB desperately hoped that the only person who was nice to him wouldn’t end up as the next body Cleto dumped in the lake.
The study must have been Val’s father’s in the past. She couldn’t remember him ever using it, but who else could it have belonged to? Certainly not her mother. The desk was glass and professional-looking, and there was a large leather couch in front of it to make guests comfortable. There were the requisite bookcases and an honest-to-goodness fireplace that currently sat cold and dark. A painting hung behind the desk. It was nothing more than a black scribble in the vague shape of a bird, and if it wasn’t in a huge silver frame taking up an entire wall to itself, Val would have mistaken it for some mediocre artist’s warmup doodle.
Val, Blueblood, Joey, and three of Blueblood’s men crowded into the small space. None of them sat on the couch but instead gathered around the desk. Blueblood pressed a button on the blocky black phone, and a small red light lit up.
“You’re on speaker,” he said.
“Thank you, Raf,” The Fox Woman’s voice came through the speaker, crackling slightly. “Hello, Val.”
“Evelyn,” Val replied.
“I’ll make this quick, since none of us have time to waste,” the Fox Woman said. “I’m finished. This little alliance has been an interesting experiment, but the risks outweigh the potential benefits. This is goodbye.”
“Don’t you think you’re being a little hasty?” Val asked. She opened her senses to the emotions in the room, feeling indignation and dread from Blueblood’s men. From Blueblood, though, she felt nothing at all, and that worried her more than the anger she’d expected. “Dr. Grim didn’t take over Paris by giving up at the first setback, you know.”
“I’m not calling to debate. My mind is made up. Good luck to you both in your endeavors, and stay the hell away from my operations on the west coast.”
The receiver clicked, and a dial tone rang. One of Blueblood’s men reached over to turn off the speaker when Blueblood made no move to do so.
Well, shit. Val was going to have to call her father. She needed to give him the news before he heard it from someone else, so she could put her own spin on it. Though how exactly she could spin this to make it sound better….
“Out,” Blueblood barked. “All of you but Val.”
Blueblood’s men immediately fled, but Joey remained, looking at Val. She gave him a silent nod. The creases on his forehead deepened, but he bit back his protests and slowly left the room.
Val faced Blueblood completely alone.
Back to JB today after a long break, and things still suck for him. But at least he’s getting some good wine out of the deal. 😉
To all my American readers, I hope you have a great July 4th weekend. I’ve been chilling at the pool and working on my nonexistent suntan. I’ve also been making steady progress on Almost Invincible.