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A Whole New Crowd

By´╝ÜTijan

PROLOGUE


Sitting on the patio steps, I heard the door open behind me, pulling me from my thoughts. I felt Carla’s hot breath on my neck before my foster mother even said a word. She smelled of cigarettes and alcohol, but that was her perfume. She wore it daily. A fresh wave of her odor came down over me before she said, “You got everything?”

“Yeah.” I wanted her gone. I didn’t want to deal with whatever she would say when Jace pulled up in his truck. Her dislike for the Panthers, a gang that controlled Pedlam and another town, was well-known. I heard the growling sound from his engine, and it was too late. It wasn’t loud, but it announced his impending arrival. There was no way she would go back inside and let me leave in peace.

She grunted. “Well damn. You got the leader himself giving you a ride over there. That’s one good thing about this miracle adoption. It gets you away from the likes of him and his brother.” Her toe pushed into my back, nudging me. “Since the brother is here, I’m assuming it didn’t go over well with your boyfriend? That drug addict probably had a hissy fit; his girlfriend taking off, leaving him behind.”

The truck slid to a stop, parked next to the curb, and Jace leaned forward so he could see me. He saw right away that she was bothering me, and his eyes narrowed. His door opened and he got out, rounding the truck to head up the sidewalk. I stood at the same time. I could’ve fought back, said some hurtful words to Carla, but she no longer mattered.

I was gone. She was the last foster family I’d be forced to live with. There’d been so many. I was moved around, from town to town, but for some reason, I kept being sent back to Pedlam. As Jace neared us, a wave of relief and bitterness crashed through me at the same time. He and Brian were the only ones I considered family. He stood there and slid his hands into his pockets; his eyes were trained on Carla.

I knew what he was doing; he was trying to intimidate her, and hearing her quiet gasp, I knew it was working. Either that or she wanted to fuck him. With Jace, it was probably both. He was the leader of the Panthers, but he was more than that. He owned different businesses in the community, and his nightclub, the Seven8, was the most exclusive one in town. Carla had asked me to get her in last weekend, and now the owner was right in front of her. I had no doubt she was considering the possibilities of getting something from him. He had money and power. She loved both.

I glanced over my shoulder. She wet her lips, and her eyes darkened with hunger. She was checking him out.

This was normal for Jace. He was gorgeous with broad shoulders, a trim waist, chiseled cheekbones, grey eyes, and dark blonde hair cut short in a crew-cut. His body was lean, but it was defined and sculpted into a lethal machine.

A faint grin hovered over his face. “You ready?”

I jerked my head in a nod. I couldn’t get away fast enough.

He came up a step and grabbed the bags. Sliding his arm through the straps, he tossed my bags over his shoulder to land on his back. I only had one other bag. He eyed it, but I shook my head. I would carry it myself. He nodded and turned back to his truck. I started after him, but a hand came down on my shoulder, stopping me.

I held back.

Carla said, “Not so fast. You’re not going to give me a hug goodbye?”

Jace had already made it to the truck. After the bags were inside, he paused, glancing back at us again.

I rolled my shoulder to get her hand off me. When it didn’t budge, I'd had enough. Gritting my teeth, I jerked my arm up and knocked her hand away. Her eyes widened, and a second later, anger flooded her features. I moved down the steps, watching her warily as I made my way to the truck. I never knew what she would do when she was angry.

“You don’t have to be such a bitch.” She glared at me.

I nodded. I’d been quiet, putting up with her loathing long enough. I hadn’t wanted to move again, which would happen if I would do things like talk back. The foster parents never wanted to deal with me, but this was the last one. I was going to a real home, with a real family, and I wouldn’t have to worry about being kicked out or being taken away again.

I smirked at her. “You should repeat that to yourself when you look in a mirror every morning.”

Her cheeks got red, and I knew she had an angry retort ready for me.

“Taryn,” Jace murmured from inside the truck. I was at the truck now. The door opened behind me, and he added, stretched over the seat, “Come on. Get in.”

“Gladly.”

She was still on the patio, her hand clenched around the post. As I climbed inside and shut the door, I frowned. “Why isn’t she doing anything? She usually yells by now or threatens to lock me in my room.”

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