Taming Cross (Love Inc.)

By: Ella James

Book Two in the Love Inc. Series


Since the accident, I've had a sixth sense. I’m not even fucking kidding you. I think it started because of the pain. I don't remember much about the coma—most of it is sounds and smells and feelings stretched apart and pushed together like a dream under water—but I remember the pain. It was...different than the pain you feel when you're awake. The kind of shit that flows through every part of you. Sweeps you up and swallows you. And lots of times, I could feel it coming like you hear a train from a few miles out.

The day I had the stroke was like that. I had started to come around a little and my body knew its routines, even if my mind was still in Neverland. So I could tell something was off when they wheeled me out of my room and into the ambulance, moving me from the swanky ass private rehab where I started to a state facility for people whose families couldn’t do better, or in my case, just said fuck it. As they loaded me up into the ambulance, I could feel that panic. I could feel myself slipping down, to somewhere dark you can't crawl out of.

Since I’ve come out of the coma, every time I get that panicked feeling, bad things happen.

Like when I got it two months ago, sitting in my friend Lizzy’s Camry, waiting for her to come out of Hunter West’s Napa Valley home. I woke up from a nap drenched in cold sweat, just as Priscilla Heat—my dad’s former mistress, who sold her predecessor into the sex trade—walked around the house and rapped her long red nails on my window. And I knew, half a second before I saw the spark of her Taser, that I was fucked.

Tonight, I tell myself it's my parents throwing off my equilibrium. Making me feel bad. That weird kind of bad that I've come to know and fear. The fingers of my left hand tingle and my neck feels tight. I blink into the mirror and I squeeze my eyes shut. Grab a deep breath. Keep shaving.

I don't shave every day anymore, but my buddy Suri will be here in a few minutes, and if I don't get rid of my beard before she shows up, she'll know I’ve been holed up.

When was the last day I went out? Suri and Lizzy hauled me to The Napa Noodle…eight days ago? The night before they left for Paris. They got back yesterday—Friday—with Lizzy's wedding gown in tow. I left the house on Monday. Grocery run. So yeah, it's been four days.

I'm taking it slow on my neck—I'm a leftie, and since my motorcycle wreck, my left hand’s pretty much fucked—but when I hear the bell atop the shop door ding, I speed up. Occasionally when I was in rehab, Suri shaved me, and if she sees how long it takes me, even after three month’s practice, she's likely to try again.

My fingers sweat as I finish up my jaw. I hear the gentle clomping of expensive heels on cement stairs leading up to my loft, and— fuck! I feel a sharp sting under the razor, followed by a crimson bloom that quickly starts snaking down my neck. I'm muttering curses, tossing the razor into the sink, when Suri calls my name.

“Just a second,” I call through the door. Damnit, I sound surly.

“Okay.” Suri, as always, sounds like she belongs in the angel choir.

I pull open the swing-out mirror, revealing a shallow medicine cabinet that doesn't hold a shave stick. Shit. Through the door, I can hear Suri humming “Sympathy for the Devil.” Guilt prickles through me, like I'm growing a cactus underneath my skin, and I feel it again—that dark tug that's just a breath away from panic.

I use my stupid but working right hand to press tissue against the cut while I ease my left arm into its shirt sleeve. A few of my half-curled fingers get caught on the inside of the cuff, and I'm trying to get my numb hand through when she calls, “C? You okay in there?”

“Fine.” I'm trying for a more chill tone this time, but I don't really manage it. I still sound ornery. I’m probably the last person Suri should be spending her night with. Except, of course, my asshole parents—and they're the reason for this whole ordeal.

I smash the tissue onto my jaw and inhale deeply. This was a mistake, letting her go with me. I pull the tissue off my face. It's still bleeding, but it's slowed now, enough that I can get my shirt the rest of the way on.

The dress shirt is blue, which I happen to know makes my blue eyes look bluer, not that I give a fuck tonight. It feels like a lifetime since I tried to get a piece of ass—or thought about my appearance. I'm only looking myself over now to see what my parents will see: dark brown hair still a little shorter than I used to wear it; probably a good thing, because it makes me look more bulky. As I run my gaze down my shoulders, chest, and slacks, then back up to my face, I see myself clearly for the first time in a while, and I'm surprised to feel a sick pit in my stomach.

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