Friday, September 8, 2017

Deadly Sins: Wrath SNEAK PEEK!

SNEAK PEEK: Chapters 1&2

Wrath (n.) Extreme anger, rage, fury, outrage, vexation, annoyance, crossness

It had been the dinner date from hell, the longest twenty-seven minutes of Madison “Maddie” LaFoe’s life. Before the appetizer had even made its debut, she had come to a decision: she was done with Brandon—completely. A convenient opportunity to escape her current predicament presented itself when he’d scooted his seat back, stood, and said, “You know where the toilet is in this joint?”
The joint Brandon referred to was actually a five-star Italian restaurant in downtown Salt Lake City. And from the moment he’d entered—dressed in a pair of faded jeans, a gray T-shirt with not one but two nickel-sized stains on the front, and filthy, worn tennis shoes—it was clear he didn’t fit in.
Maddie faked a grin and pointed. “The bathroom is around the corner on the left.” 
He tipped his head in her direction. “Great, I’ll be right back.”
He tossed his napkin onto the table, pivoted, and walked away, the rubber soles on his shoes squeaking so loudly on the hardwood floor that several patrons of the restaurant flashed disapproving looks his way. He was too busy staring at a painting of wild horses hanging on the back wall to notice.
Take your time, buddy. Take all time you need.
Watching him walk away, Maddie was shocked at how far off the mark her assistant had been when describing him. Her assistant had said Brandon was six-three, muscular, and funny. In reality, his look was oafish and sloppy, his humor dry, his intellect deficient—a far cry from the sophisticated gentlemen she usually dated.
The second he rounded the corner, she’d snatched her handbag off the back of the chair and stood, making a beeline for the front door. In seconds she was outside and free, rid of him forever. She leaned against the building and inhaled a hearty lungful of the city’s brisk winter air.  
            Never again.
            No blind dates.
No blind dates ever again.
She slid a hand inside her pocket, unwrapped a piece of gum, and popped it into her mouth. She walked toward her car, contemplating which of Brandon’s less-than-stellar traits she found more repulsive—his obsession for telling dumb-blonde jokes despite the fact she was a platinum blonde, or the fact he couldn’t make it five minutes without verbally slamming his ex-wife.
The man was a crazy ass.
She cupped a hand over her mouth, giggled.
Crazy ass.
Good nickname.
She clicked her key fob and the car door unlocked, but before she could step inside, a familiar sound echoed from behind. 
            Squeak, squeak.
            No, no, no.
            Brandon was charging toward her. “Maddie! What the hell! Mind explaining where you’re going?”
            Isn’t it obvious? Where does it look like I’m going?
            She faced him. “Leaving, Brandon. I’m going home.”
            He crossed his arms, tapped a tennis shoe on the ground. “I don’t get it. We were having a great time together. Why?”
            She thought about giving him the Look, I’m sorry, you’re a nice guy spiel, but why would she? She wasn’t sorry, and he wasn’t nice.
“We’re not a good match,” she said. “And I don’t see any point wasting your time or mine.”
            “So … what? You just decided you’d walk out without saying anything?”
            “I planned on texting you when I left.”
            He grunted a laugh. “You were going to text me? Wow, because a text would make ditching out on me all better, right?”
            His sarcasm gushed like an overflowing dam, and she detected a shift in his eyes. He was embarrassed, but he was also angry.
She opened the car door, said nothing.
He balled his hands into fists, clenching his jaw. “Oh, so you’re done talking now too? Really? You have nothing more to say?”
            Civility had never been Maddie’s strong suit, and she was fresh out of decent, appropriate ways to soothe the sting of her rejection. “If you need me to be the jerk in this situation so you can feel better, fine. I’m the jerk. Goodnight, Brandon.”
            She ducked inside the car, but was whipped backward when Brandon grabbed her arm and yanked her toward him. He slammed the car door closed and then thrust his body against hers, pinning her between him and the car.
            He pressed a finger onto the center of her forehead. “You don’t get to humiliate me and then get in your car and drive away.”
            “Back off me, Brandon. Now.”
            Back off me, Brandon,” he mocked. “You girls always think you’re so tough.”
            He had no idea.
            “Last warning,” she said. “Back … off.”
            “Or what? Whatcha gonna do?”
            She grabbed hold of the back of his T-shirt, bundled it into a cross grip, looped it around until it tightened around his neck, and squeezed, allowing his shock of the chokehold she’d created to settle in before ramming a knee into his groin. He stumbled backward, tripping over himself and falling to the ground. He cupped a hand over his crotch, howling like his private parts had just been severed from his body.
Maddie knelt over him and blew an impressive bubble with her gum, popping it in his face. “It’s called jiu-jitsu if you’re wondering. And if you’re going to keep dating, you need to come to grips with one important fact—women aren’t weak.”
He pressed a hand to the ground, tried to stand up. “You … you!”
She shoved him back down again. “I’m leaving now, and if you’re smart, you won’t try to stop me this time. Oh, and for the record, you were a terrible date.”  

Maddie revved the engine of her royal blue 1968 Chevy Camaro and peeled out of the parking lot. She glanced in the rearview mirror, pleased to see Brandon still sitting on the asphalt, sulking.
What a night.
The story was too good to not to share.
She pressed on the car’s touchscreen, selected the first number on her favorites list, and listened to the phone dial.
            “I had the worst date of my life tonight, Sloane,” Maddie said.  
            “Why? What happened?”
            Maddie filled her in on the details, pausing after she’d finished. “You’re quiet. Did you hear everything I just said?”
            Sloane said, “Yes,” and then burst out laughing.
            “Hey,” Maddie said. “It’s only funny because it didn’t happen to you.”
            “Oh, come on. It’s a little funny, isn’t it? Whose brilliant idea was it to set you two up?”
            “Laurel. You two haven’t met. I hired her a couple weeks ago to assist me in the lab.”
“What happened to Ron?”
“He moved last month. He’s working for a coroner in Chicago now.”  
            “Why would Laurel set you up with a guy like Brandon?”
            Maddie sighed. “I’m guessing she doesn’t know what he’s like. She told me he was a friend of her husband.”
            “Well, on the positive side, you were in and out in under an hour at least.”
            Bright lights beamed through Maddie’s rear window, flashing on and off and then on and off again.
            “Hey, Sloane, I better go.”
            “Is everything okay?”
            “Yeah, I’m fine. There’s a lot of snow on the road, and the car behind me is trying to get frisky. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
Maddie ended the call and did a quick glance over her shoulder. The other car was even closer, but the headlights were solid now, emitting a constant stream of light. She sighed, wishing she’d checked the weather report before heading out earlier. If she had, she would have known to drive her SUV instead.
The road shifted, the single lane becoming two.
Maddie drifted into the right lane, hoping the other vehicle would pass. It was large and beefy, a truck from the looks of it, which suggested the driver could be Brandon. The assumption dissipated when the truck accelerated, running parallel just long enough for her to see it was white and run-down. Brandon’s was new and black. 
It wasn’t him.
The truck cruised on past, tires spitting chunks of snow onto Maddie’s windshield as it shifted into the right lane in front of her. She needed distance. Now. She took her foot off the gas pedal and slowed her car down, maintaining the lower speed until the truck was so far in the distance the fog shielded it from view. It pained her to drive so slowly, but in ten minutes it would all be worth it. She’d be home, running herself a bath, with a book in one hand and a full glass of wine in the other.  
Even though the storm was in full effect, the blustery scene outside had a serene element to it, the thick flakes of snow evoking a peaceful calm within her. She stared in wonderment for a moment, her eyes shifting back to the road when the truck came into view again. She was shocked. She thought he’d be long gone by now.
The driver slammed on his brakes as if trying to avoid hitting something in the road, and Maddie swerved, jerking the steering wheel to keep her car from colliding into the truck’s backside. But she’d turned too fast. The car spun around, then slid off the road, diving into an embankment. Maddie’s face smashed into the steering wheel, her car coming to an abrupt stop.
Disoriented, she tried making sense of what had just happened. Pain spread across her face, throbbing like the constant beat of a drum.  
Come on, move.
You can do it.
You’ve got this.
She peeled her head off the steering wheel, leaned back on the headrest, and opened her eyes. From her vantage point, the front of her car had been crushed. She’d have to get out and inspect it to know how bad, but right now, simple movement was a stretch.
For the moment, she was alone on the road.
The driver of the truck hadn’t bothered to stop.
She ran a hand across her face. It was wet and sticky. A gash on her forehead trickled blood down her face. She pressed a finger in the center of the storage compartment where she kept change. It popped open. Grunting in pain, she reached inside, took out her cell phone, and pressed the redial button.
            “Sloane … I … I think I’m in trouble.”
            “What do you mean? What’s going on?”
            Another car coming down the road.
            “Hang … hang on.” Maddie switched her hazard lights on and watched the car roll to a stop behind her.
“I’ve been in an accident.”
“What? Where are you?”
“I’m fine. Someone just pulled up behind me, but can you call an ambulance? I think I have a few broken body parts. I’m trying not to move too much until I find out.”
“Where are you?”
“Corner of Alder and Vine.”
“Okay, I’m putting you on hold. I’ll call for an ambulance and then I’ll be right back. Don’t hang up.” 
A woman approached the driver’s-side and opened the car door. She was short, no more than five-two Maddie guessed, and probably in her forties. She wore small, round eyeglasses that reminded Maddie of Mrs. Claus, leather gloves, and a hot-pink beanie with a giant, glittery silver pom-pom in the center.
            “Oh my goodness,” the woman said. “Are you okay?”
            “I … I don’t know. Thanks for stopping.”
            “Sure, sure. What can I do to help? Call someone?”
            “I’ve already done that. I’m waiting for the ambulance to arrive.”
            “Good, good.”
            “I think I’ve cracked a couple ribs,” Maddie said.
            The woman nodded. “You’re in luck. I’m a doctor.”
            “I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but if you’re a doctor then you know it’s difficult to determine until I have an x-ray or an MRI.”
            Before the woman could rebut the last statement, Sloane returned to the phone line. “Maddie, you there?”
            “I’m here.”
            “The ambulance will be there soon.”
            “Do you know how long?”
            “I’m not sure. They’re hurrying. I’ll stay on the phone with you until they arrive. You alone?”
            “No, there’s a woman with me.”
            “Let me talk to her.”
            Maddie held the phone out. “It’s my friend, Sloane. She wants to talk to you.”
            The woman took the phone and explained she wanted to assess Maddie for broken bones so she could move her to her car. She then looked at Maddie and said, “Your friend agrees with me. I should at least have a look and see if there’s anything I can do.”
            Hoping to pacify both women involved, Maddie yielded. “All right. Go ahead.”
             The woman smiled. “I’m going to put the phone down while I check.”
She hunched over Maddie, placing light pressure on her chest. “I’ll be gentle. Tell me when it hurts.”
            Maddie expected the woman to move a hand across her chest. Instead the woman dug into her jacket pocket and pulled out a white handkerchief.
            Maddie looked at the hankie and then her cell phone. It appeared to be off. “Hand me my phone.”
            “You know, Madison,” the woman said. “I mean, is it okay if I call you Madison? I suppose I can call you Maddie if you prefer, but Maddie just doesn’t have the same ring to it, you know? I mean, I get it. It’s trendy and cute in its own way, but far less sophisticated than your given name, if you ask me.”
            “How do you know my—”
            “Oh, I know a lot about you.”
            Panicked, Maddie attempted to undo her seatbelt, but the pain was too great and the woman too fast. The hankie was shoved over Maddie’s mouth. Maddie clenched her jaw, kept her mouth close.
            “Don’t resist, honey. It’s too late now, mmm … kay?”
            Maddie thrashed back and forth, even though she knew the woman was right. The sweet, solvent smell was unmistakable. Chloroform.  
“It’s never a good idea to meddle in other people’s business,” the woman said. “Didn’t your parents ever teach you that? I mean, I guess they didn’t. But they should have. Anyhoo, we can talk about all that later. Night night.”


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