Hardcore Opening Excerpt (4K likes celebration!)

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HARDCORE: Vol 1

Kiss, Kiss, Bang

There were times when I wondered how I’d gotten where I was. I’d been alone for so long that I didn’t know how to care anymore, couldn’t find a point in wanting more than nothing. How can you want more of something you’ve never had? If you don’t know what you’re missing, you have nothing to lose. But the second you know, the moment you taste it, you can never go back.

Years of choices trailed behind me like broken glass, leading me to where I stood, which at that moment was a small electronics store in Hell’s Kitchen where I filled my black backpack with RAM and graphics cards under the light of the LED hooked on my ear.

“Three minutes,” Jade yelled from across the dark store, her voice muffled from the black jersey buff stretched over her nose, mouth, and neck.

I moved down the aisle and grabbed stacks of boxes of memory cards, dropping them in next to a few cameras and a MacBook.

“Done.” I tossed my flashlight into my pack and zipped it up.

“Me too,” answered Erin from behind me.

“Let’s hit it,” Jade said, and I pulled on my pack.

I turned to Erin, who raised a dark eyebrow. She was a column of shades of black, from her boots to her hood. The only visible skin was found around her bright blue eyes as she jerked her head to the back exit.

Jade stood in the hallway with her cold eyes shifting from her watch to the store, impatience thick in her voice. “Come on, bitches.”

Morgan and Cher trotted out from between the aisles to us, their height difference almost comical. Cher stood somewhere around five feet with curves all over, where Morgan pushed six and was lean as she was tall.

“Cool your shit,” Morgan popped with narrow eyes.

“Fuck you.” Jade turned to head for the door, not seeming to care whether we followed or not.

We stepped into the cool alley to the sound of sirens and glanced at each other for a split second. Then, we took off running.

Jade ran up a wall and grabbed a fire escape ladder, and everyone else followed, scrambling up the iron structure like monkeys.

“Only pussies use ladders,” I shouted, spotting a dumpster at the corner of the building. I pulled off my gloves, stuffing them in my pocket as I sprinted for it and vaulted up, then jumped for a windowsill above me. My toes caught holds in the brick, and I hoisted myself up from ledge to sill until I reached the rooftop. My boots hit the gravel with a crunch as I took off for our loft with my friends whooping behind me.

We’d been running together for ten years, ever since high school, but had only spent half of that time stealing. It had started out innocently enough, just sneaking into abandoned buildings to parkour. Freeclimbing and running, pushing my body to see how far I could go, how high I could climb … well, it was a welcomed escape from life.

Jade was handy with lock picks, and I could get us past the alarms, so when Jade’s twin brother had the idea to start breaking into electronics stores, it was easy money. There were so many small things we could cram into a backpack and get rid of with no real risk of being tracked. And we’d never been caught.

Morgan passed me easily with her mile-long legs, and I watched her back as she flipped over a short wall onto the next roof. When I vaulted the ledge behind her, I saw them.

A pack of guys was free running across the alley from where we were. One of them called out, smiling cheerfully, and Jade flipped him off as we veered off in the opposite direction. A couple of the girls had pulled their buffs down to make it easier to breathe, but pulled them back on as soon as they realized the boys were chasing us.

None of us turned to look, just pushed harder, but within minutes, I heard their footfalls. I glanced over my shoulder to find the shadows of five guys, all of them laughing and calling out to us.

“Jay,” I shouted at Jade with my chin low, “split.”

“Heard,” she yelled back, and we each took off in a different direction.

They thought it was a game, that we were playing. I looked back, and under the lights of the city and moon, I saw each girl leaping, climbing, hauling ass with a guy in their wake. I caught a glimpse of my pursuer a ways behind me, tall and muscular in a tank and sweats. I couldn’t see his face in the dark, but his presence pulled me like gravity.

Get rid of him. The words cycled through my head like a skipping record.

I cut hard to cross a line of buildings, knowing exactly where I was. I’d parkoured through Hell’s Kitchen a million times, and the low, brick buildings were easy to navigate. But I was about to hit a point where I’d either have to drop to the street or switch back. There was only one way to buy time.

I ran for the wall and slid on the gravel toward the ledge, flipping over it to land on the fire escape platform with a clang. The metal rail bit at my palms as I vaulted over the edge and dropped, catching the next rail down with a jolt that shot up my arms, barely pausing before letting go. I hit the ground and took off through the alley with my eyes on a building down the street. He wouldn’t be able to get to in enough time to catch me. Not unless he was good.

“Holy shit,” he yelled from above me, and I looked back to find him running the roofs alongside me.

He was persistent, and good enough that I had to push hard to stay ahead of him. A different kind of heat burned through me as he chased, one that was hotter than the sweat trailing down my body or my breath under my buff. But I had to shake him. The last thing I needed was to get held up with thousands of dollars in stolen property on me.

My legs were on fire, and my feet pounded a steady rhythm, matching my heartbeat as I sprinted for the wall. The space between the building he was on and the one I was about to scale was too far. There was no way he could jump it, and there was no way he could climb down and back up in enough time to catch me. When I reached the wall, I took two steps up, grabbed a stone window ledge, and climbed, reaching for the next window up.

He skidded to a stop behind me and swore as I climbed, but when I reached the top and looked across the street, he was gone.

“Later.” I took off again, almost relieved that he’d given up as I turned for the loft. I had crossed a couple more buildings before I heard footsteps pounding behind me.

“Hey,” he called. “Hold up.”

My heart kicked into gear at the sound of his voice, and if I hadn’t been so freaked out, I would have been smiling. I said nothing, didn’t turn, only pushed harder as I wondered in awe just how in the hell he’d caught up.

“Wait,” he yelled, jumped onto the roof where I was, and ran diagonally toward me. “I just want to talk,” he panted. “You’re incredible.”

My lungs burned as I spotted a gap between buildings and pushed as hard as I could. On a normal day, I could have spanned it like nothing, but after running all over the borough, I should have known it was too far. I held my breath and jumped, time slowing down as I hung in the air, my eyes on the ledge ahead of me. My body slammed against the wall, and I barely got my fingers on the edge as my boots scrabbled against the brick for purchase.

My toes gripped the wall, and I looked up just as he sailed over me and landed on the roof. He leaned over and extended a hand, his eyes dark. “Come on.”

The impulse to take his hand was overwhelming. Shock ripped through me as I pictured myself doing it, making it to the top. In that stretched out moment, I also knew he was giving me a choice. He could have grabbed my arm, could have caught me. But instead, he let me decide.

I looked over my shoulder at the wide ledge, then back up into his eyes before I dropped. My fingers and toes never left the wall as I slid down, and when I glanced up, he was still leaning over the edge with his hand extended and mouth open.

Something shifted, like the tightening of a screw. I could feel him above me as I walked the ledge and jumped down onto a dumpster, taking off again as soon as my boots hit pavement. He wouldn’t quit. He was on the roof, close enough to the edge that I could see the determination in the set of his jaw, his lips flat as he chased and gained.

He wasn’t going to let me go again.

“Fuck,” I breathed, trying to figure out what to do. Strangely, I wasn’t afraid. I anticipated him catching me, wondered what his arms would feel like around my waist, and the thought sent another shock through me. I shook it away.

I couldn’t lead him to the loft, but I couldn’t stop him either. Well, I could stop him, but I didn’t want to hurt him, not unless there were no other options. So I kept running, leaving him on the roof, keeping to the street to lose him for good.

After hauling ass for a few blocks, I ducked into a dark alley and pressed myself against the rough brick with the smell of metal and garbage in my nose. My chest heaved as I tried to catch my breath, unable to move.

Who the fuck is this guy? I couldn’t even imagine why he was still chasing me, not when everything in his body language told me he knew I wasn’t playing. And then I put my finger on it. He was challenging me. Another wave of heat washed over me that had nothing to do with the run.

I closed my eyes and breathed for a second, waiting for my thumping pulse to quiet down. After a few minutes, all I heard were the sounds of the city, the hum of the traffic, and music bumping from somewhere nearby. I’d lost him. I mourned my relief as I ran through my options.

I could hit the roofs again or stick to the street. If he was still on the rooftops, I’d be easy to spot, but on the street I could lose my buff and hood and look normal. Before I had a chance to decide, he stepped into the entrance of the alley.

His shoulders heaved, his body a silhouette at the mouth of the dark alley. I didn’t breathe, didn’t move, just stared at him as adrenaline shot through me again, unsure whether or not he could see me.

When he stepped into the alley, I turned and ran. Climbed another escape and took off across the roofs with him on my heels. Ran like clowns and cops and zombies were chasing me. But he was right there, right behind me. His energy was like a black hole sucking me backward. I heard his breath as he huffed, and then, he was on me.

He grabbed my arm, and I tried to twist out of his grip, but we were moving so fast that the motion sent both of us off balance. We hit the ground with a thud, and he landed on top of me, pinning my hands to the ground over my head. My backpack laid a few feet away, and my buff had slipped down. His eyes scanned my face as we both breathed heavy, his big hands like a vice around my wrists and his wide shoulders looming over me.

“What … the fuck?” he panted. His lips were full, his eyes dark, and his jaw muscles bounced under his stubble as his teeth clenched.

“Let me go,” I said through mine.

“I just wanted to talk to you,” he said, his brow low, his voice deep, full of disbelief. “What are you running from?”

The words were simple, and I knew he couldn’t possibly know what they meant to me. That question had hung over me like a rainy cloud, one I ignored as an absolute rule. I knew what he was asking. But something about the way he said it, with his voice full of wonder and exhaustion, or maybe the honesty in his question … something about it hit me. As adrenaline shot through my body, I didn’t think, only reacted.

I brought my mouth to his before he could pull away.

***COMING JANUARY 2015***

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