Authors: Melissa Jane
Published by Melissa Jane
This book is licensed for your enjoyment only. It is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblances to people living or dead, locales and events are entirely coincidental. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient
Produced by Melissa Jane
Front cover by Cover It! Designs
Editor: Duncan Carling-Rodgers
For more information about the Bittersweet Duet series please visit
Little Doll (Book 1)
Crimson Desert (Book 2)
Miguel Angel Ruiz
“How long do you think this
gringa will last?” The heavy Mexican accent invaded my throbbing head. “I give her two days.”
“That’s two days longer than your
mama, puto,” said another man, his snide remark encouraging sniggers from the others.
“Eh, fuck you puto
! My mama is a saint, don’t talk about her like that.” Still bitter over the insult, the first man fired off a rapid string of Spanish insults which only incited more jeering and laughter from the others.
As if I would date your mama, bro. I got some hot mamasita rolling around my bed every night showing off her moves and sexy body.”
, puto?” The offended man sounded skeptical. “Who? What’s her name?”
“You know her
,” the other said, antagonistically.
“Don’t game me, bro. Who is it? I bet it’s that r
egordete chica from the east barrio.”
Nah, bro. My girl, she not fat. Curves to die for, you know what I’m sayin’? Smooth skin, ripe plump breasts...”
“Mierda, puto. You couldn’t pull anyone, even regordete
“True bro, ask your sister.”
There was a brief pause while the man
slowly comprehended the words then the air erupted once again. “The fuck you talk ‘bout my family like that? Watch your back, culo!” the insulted man threatened. Clearly, he was not entertained.
wife does that for me.” The response brought more snorting and mocking from the group of morons surrounding me.
“You’re dead to me, bro
Of course I couldn’t see who these
idiots were – not that I cared to. I was living in a blackened world courtesy of a hood over my head, its itchy fabric grating against my sweaty, irritated skin. A noxious smell – a combination of stale alcohol, urine and sweat – filled my nostrils and burned my lungs with each breath.
he men around me continued their crude banter, insulting each member of the others family, I tried in vain to ease the relentless pounding in my head. The restraints around my wrists and ankles prevented any movement. Pins and needles ran a vicious circuit through my limbs and I hated myself for bringing the aggravated sensations to life.
The vehicle took a sudden swerve to the right
, causing my body to roll twice on the floor and onto the feet of my captives.
Eh, what the fuck, coño! Keep it on the road before you kill us all.”
!” sounded a pissed off voice from the front.
, fuck you, puto. How fucking hard is it to drive?”
“Get the fuck off me
,” said the same irate voice. A vicious booted kick smashed with precision into my back between ribs and my retrained hands, sending me rolling off the man’s foot. The unexpected assault left me gasping and coughing desperately for air and in the background above the noise of the engine, I could hear someone tell me to shut up.
Heat radiated through the floor
of the van, causing sweat to layer and drip down my body. My mouth was parched, leaving me practically begging my saliva glands to produce some moisture yet my tongue remained as dry as desert soil. After a few moments of intense concentration, I deduced the range of heavily-accented voices belonged to at least four men who surrounded me plus one or two in the front.
, the conversation came to a halt and I could feel their curious gazes on me. My heart pounded painfully in my chest, a dull ache seizing my body. Too afraid to move again in case my attacker felt compelled to deliver another blow, I remained perfectly still while trying to send my mind back to what I had been doing before this nightmare began.
“For the love of all things holy, Laila! Are you planning on using all our funds on photocopying?”
They'll just take it off your salary, Doug,” I smiled, endearingly, at my friend who worked as an NYU librarian. His dark eyes met my gaze as he looked over his thick-rimmed black glasses. “Consider it your contribution to charity.”
’s audible scoff raised some annoyed eyebrows of overzealous students at the surrounding study tables. “With all my millions this job pays me,” he laughed mockingly with a dismissive and somewhat effeminate wave of his hand. “Trust me, honey – I wouldn’t be the one scanning decrepit books and wiping the food crumbs from between the soiled pages if I earned that kind of moolah.”
While Doug’s over the top jibe made me smile
, I couldn’t have cared less if I put the college into debt with my photocopying. I was on a mission and time was pressing.
The cheerful face of my brother stared back at me from the photo I was holding
and suddenly the world felt empty with the possibility he was no longer in it.
Ethan was a
handsome man with tousled straight blond hair on the darker spectrum to mine. We shared the same dark blue eyes, his containing a playful nature while mine exuded a more serious element. His sun-kissed skin tone was courtesy of the habitual surfing regime he followed, unlike my pale porcelain flesh that rarely saw the light of day.
A determined tear welled in my eye as I focused on
Ethan’s cheeky smile. Even though it was a difficult pill to swallow, I had to accept the fact I was on my own in the search for him. After filing a missing person report with the NYPD and turning a begrudging back to the indifferent glances of the condescending officer at the front desk, I'd decided to take matters into my own hands. I could understand the people assigned to serve and protect us might become apathetic to the copious amounts of lost person reports submitted, but I simply could not stand by and allow Ethan’s life to be treated as one of an inconvenient tally.
Doug’s husky voice woke me from my thoughts
. “After you finish beating his fine ass for pulling this vanishing act on you, be sure to send him my way.”
Trust me, after the ass kicking I’m going to dish out, there won’t be much to send your way,” I said, trying to sound lighthearted to subdue my internal fear, but I knew my best friend could see through the façade. He had tried to talk me out of this trip suggesting it was too dangerous and that Ethan will make contact soon. But I couldn’t sit around any longer. Now, his attempt at humor was simply to put my mind at ease.
Doug planted a
swift kiss on my forehead. “Be careful little one,” he said, eyeballing me. “If I could swap shifts I'd come with you and make a day of it, but you know…” He gestured widely to his surroundings. “Nobody else can withstand the smell of yellowing paper and dust mites quite like me.”
I laughed outright
at his mixed attempt at manly protection and womanly fancies. “Don’t pretend you don’t love your job. You know this place better than anyone, and besides, there is a wealth of knowledge to be found between those pages. You should try reading something educational for once.”
, accepting my tease. While Doug worked in a library, the only text he ever read were his Twitter updates and the gossip column on his iPad.
made, lovey. Now, two phone calls a day and no night time prowls. Deal?”
“Good, now scoot and bring that delicious boy back.”
The next morning I flew from JFK to San Diego where I knew Ethan was last staying. The thought of having to speak to strangers about such a dubious matter concerning missing persons made my stomach twist with anxiety. A chaperone would have been ideal, however Doug was my only male friend and, as it stood, I would be the one most likely protecting him.
The size of San Diego
city was not as grandiose as where I was from so I decided to focus on the Gaslamp Quarter where Ethan had last claimed to be staying.
mundane, almost five hour flight had given me enough time to create a mental mind-map of the impossible task I was setting out to achieve.
By the time I
deplaned, the anxiety I had failed to suppress earlier was swirling around my gut like an unevenly loaded washing machine.
By the time I w
heeled my luggage out the glass doors of the airport, bile had risen in my throat and each step I took further fuelled my doubts.
By the time the taxi pulled into a street I was certain wasn’t the one I asked for, sweat had pooled between my breasts and r
an down my spine in consistent rivers.
None of the ill at ease sensations could throw me off the scent
My little brother Ethan
vanished suddenly and without warning, and, given our family history, his notable absence was cause for alarm. Not only that, but it brought back an array of distressing memories I had forced myself to lock in a box kept in the dark recesses of my mind.
Our once nuclear family had
lost its glue when my mother had passed from a sudden brain aneurysm. The fibers that once weaved us all together were frayed and tattered, leaving my father to find alternative means of grieving that didn’t involve Ethan or myself.
Just over a year later
, the man who had claimed to love and adore us left in the middle of night taking with him every cent of savings and our broken hearts. A week later, two men in cheap suits stood grim-faced on our porch informing me the man I had identified in the picture as indeed being my father had been found dead in a car located on level five of a parking lot in Vegas. A week after that, a man in an expensive tailored suit stood on my porch informing me the house I had been raised in was being repossessed from failing to meet a three months’ worth of mortgage repayments.
At the age of
seventeen, I was left with very little choice but to fend for both Ethan and myself to ensure we had a roof over our heads and dinner on our plates every night.
news flowed our way when a letter arrived in the rusty mailbox of our outskirts rented home, welcoming me as the newest NYU scholarship recipient. Ethan found an income that brought in enough to cover expenses and I did night shifts at an after-hours medical practice while using the quiet times between triaging patients to work on my assignments.
From a young boy with fear in his eyes,
Ethan had grown up to be a remarkable and passionate man, however naïve he remained. He had given my mother nothing but grief, always thinking he was doing good for people, but really he was just a contemporary Robin Hood, robbing from the rich to give to the poor. This type of trouble had happened on a regular basis, especially during his teens, and I sensed now, even at the age of twenty-one, Ethan was still winding up in the same predicaments.
The disgruntled taxi driver
who apparently had better things to do than his job, pulled away from the curb with a screech, leaving me without a clue as to my whereabouts. The searing heat was the first thing I noticed as I scanned the surrounding buildings. The incredibly hot day contained no hint of a sea breeze and the sun bore down on me, blasting my face.
Since I was practically abandoned
in an unfamiliar location, I decided to kill two birds with one stone and hand out some flyers along the way. My enthusiasm lagged as I contemplated the logistics of that decision. While my current location was unknown (although the cab driver insisted my hotel was just a short walk away), I had also failed to take the humid weather into account.
My discomfort was
only added to by the indiscreet leering from the locals as I travelled down a small street. I couldn’t determine if I was imagining their scrutiny because of my own discomfort or if, in actual fact, I stood out amongst the higher population of Hispanics. I wandered to the edge of the city where foot traffic had become less and less, despite this particular street containing numerous cafés spilling out onto the footpaths with their rickety, multi-colored furniture. The patrons at each cafe eyed me curiously as I hauled my suitcase along the road to reach my hotel.
it wasn't for a handful of white and pink debris falling only a foot in front of my face, then shattering into a small plume of dust on impact on the cement path, I would have quite frankly walked past the rather dowdy, mundane hotel. Cautiously glancing up in case my eye was taken out by more falling pink rocks, I noted with ill-disguised disappointment the brown lettering that formed the La Sans Inn sign. Coincidentally, both the A’s hung precariously lopsided by the one remaining rusted screw in each. Upon viewing my new lodging, I decided it could no way be classified a ‘hotel’ if the Department of Health and Safety had anything to do with it.
I hadn’t had time to
look thoroughly into accommodation before I left NYC, so I booked the first thing that popped up on the internet. Hindsight was such a bitch sometimes. Forlornly, I studied the shabby dwelling from the front. It was only a four-story building with tiny windows, half of which were boarded up with ply. Large air conditioner units hung hazardously under each ledge. Other than the promise of some cool air, La Sans Inn had absolutely positively no redeeming features.
, I wheeled my suitcase through the door to the front counter. The surly-looking and, in all honesty, frightfully ugly woman at reception was less than hospitable and clearly lacked the basics of social etiquette. She regarded me curiously with her beady black eyes, her thin-to-non-existent lips set in a permanent scowl, and sighed constantly in frustration as though I had rudely interrupted her day. While processing my booking, her sour face seemed to perk up into somewhat of a strained smile when I handed my credit card over.
My room was on the first floor
, to which I was grateful given the sweltering heat and the out-of-order lifts. The despicable excuse for a room filled me with as much joy as when I saw the outside. People actually pay for this? I truly hated myself that I'd just become another number that contributed to financing this dump.
Leaving my bag just inside the
door, I stalked to a flimsy-looking nightstand and located the air conditioner remote in the dusty drawer. Aiming it directly at the system and pressing 'on', I waited impatiently for it to blast me with some cool air. After multiple attempts and certainly no cool air, I resigned myself to searching for another hotel the next day. There was no way I would survive in the searing heat without a functioning cooling system.
the room, I noted in disgust the baby poo brown – or green, it was hard to distinguis
– threadbare carpet that certainly had to be the original from when the hotel was first open for business, possibly in the fifties. The walls required a determined mold removal and there were suspicious white stains splotched over the dowdy bedspread.
I determined that while the rank
smelling room may leave me diseased with bed bugs and god knew what else, I couldn’t let it distract me from my point of being here. Eyeing the flyers half exposed in my handbag, I knew I would have to make a move before the sun went down.
one from the bag, I studied the face staring back at me.
Ethan had been missing for over three weeks
. An uneasy feeling in my gut had told me something was wrong the night he hadn’t called. Ethan always called at six on Wednesday and Sunday nights like clockwork. It was a routine we had established once he had moved out of our home for work and I flew out to Paris as part of my degree. After the unsolved death of my father, we had aimed to establish some rules when it came to our safety and two phone calls a week were a part of that.
e had grown close over the last few years, all I knew was he had started a new job in San Diego that he never wanted to delve into details about, despite my incessant questioning and imploring the use of our safety rules. He had assured me everything was fine, that the jobs he was doing for his employer would bring enough money to us one day to put a down payment on a property, yet I simply did not trust the situation and I knew he needed my help.
After unpacking a few items needed for my walk
, I made my way back down to the streets to start my quest asking anyone that passed if they had seen the man in the photograph. I knew it was an old school method of tracking someone down, but when the NYPD refused to help and then assured me that the San Diego Police Department would have none of it also, I'd come to terms with doing this on my own, the only way I knew how.
Hispanic-looking man walking down the street outside the hotel was my first engagement.
have you seen this man?”
Holding up a photo of Ethan
, I dismissed the negative thoughts plaguing my mind, telling me that my efforts were futile. I still didn’t feel confident in delivering the line in Spanish despite my rote learning attempt. Instead, I prayed that their English was a lot better than any attempt made by me with their language.