Chapter 1 Twist of Fate

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CHAPTER ONE

Jace

 

Where the hell is the Uber?

Rain beats down on the umbrella I’m carrying in hard, angry pellets, and as I glance at my watch, little droplets of water splatter over the surface. Against the heavy rainfall my umbrella is meager protection and I’m getting soggier by the minute.

Where’s the fucking car?

The second hand ticks by, and every moment that passes reminds me I’m going to be late. Late for one of the most important days of my medical career. I blow out a deep breath and stare up into the rolling storm clouds, hoping to spot a ray of sunshine. But I’m not that lucky. This morning started out shitty and has grown worse by the second. I look up and down the crowded city streets, searching for the light of an empty taxi in the sea of cars, but of course I can’t find one. On top of the storm, it’s the morning rush hour.

Above me there’s a crack of thunder followed by the flash of lightning across the dark gray sky, like a warning of what’s to come.

Goddamn Chicago weather.

Ironically, I’m never late. I’m normally annoyingly punctual to the point my friends make fun of me. So why today, of all days, is this happening?

I’m interviewing for a fellowship in my specialty of choice, facial reconstructive surgery at Northwestern. I’d applied for one fantasy, two pipe dreams, and three safe, realistic fellowships. The Northwestern spot fell into the pipe-dream category, and there were applicants from all over the world.

And I’m going to be fucking late if the damn Uber doesn’t get here immediately.

What irritates me is I’d planned for unforeseen catastrophe. Despite my choice in demanding professions, and my current agitation, I’m a laid-back guy. After growing up with a good-hearted but extremely scatterbrained mother with a flair for procrastination and an inability to manage deadlines, I despise drama and stress. Better to be early than late. Sitting around is boring, but calm, and I’ll take calm any day of the week. So I planned accordingly, allowing plenty of extra time for mishaps, city traffic, and unexpected occurrences. But then the heavens opened up and dumped a monsoon on the city.

Christ. Where is the Uber?

When puddles begin to form at the base of my shoes I pull out my phone and open the app. The driver, who was supposed to have arrived fifteen minutes ago, is still sitting in the same spot a half-mile from here and hasn’t moved.

Traffic is bad, but it’s not so bad he can’t make progress, and the car stubbornly refuses to budge.

I stare at the animated vehicle. Willing it to move, but it stays motionless.

A gust of wind whips through the streets, gusting up and under my umbrella, flipping it inside out. I shove my phone into my pocket as I attempt to wrestle it back into submission. Rain pelts my hair and face, drenching my suit as I fight with the offending object. All of a sudden, I hear a horrible creaking sound, and the umbrella bends, folding into two, to hang limply to one side, utterly useless.

I have a long fuse, but it flares bright and hot. Great, now on top of being late, I’ll look like a drowned rat. I might as well kiss my chances goodbye, but I refuse to give up. Not now, after I’ve come so far.

I will not be defeated by the weather and a rogue Uber driver.

I pull my phone out of my pocket again and stare at the screen.

Mother fucker.

The car is still motionless. I let loose a stream of mumbled vulgarities. Any other day but this one.

Any. Other. Day.

Just as I’m about to give up hope the car begins to move in my direction.

Finally.

Huddled under a meager awning, I watch the slow movement of the car making its way toward me, anger building with each second that slips by. When the driver pulls up to the curb in front of me, I’m soaked to the bone, and fuming, fighting to control my temper.

The driver, a man that’s probably in his sixties and looks like a hippie Santa Claus, rolls down his window. “Jace?”

My first instinct is to lose it and go off on him, but sanity prevails and I decide to give him the benefit of the doubt. I toss my battered umbrella into a trash can, and race to the car, fumbling to open the door as water beats on my face. “Yeah. What happened, man?”

He jerks a thumb into the back seat. “She did.”

I slide into the car, only to be confronted by a woman in a black business suit. Expression cool, she glances at me, and frowns.

One look at her and the driver’s response makes perfect sense. Her sleek auburn hair is licked with flames of gold, curving over her shoulders, and is so glossy she should be in a hair commercial. Her complexion in creamy—pale and luminous—the perfect complement to her vivid light blue eyes. And if that wasn’t bad enough, she has legs that go on for miles.

The woman is goddamn stunning.

But, lucky for me, I don’t give a flying fuck how hot she is. She’s in my car and needs to get out. I snap. “Who the hell are you?”

One auburn brow rises and she crosses her arms over her chest. “I’m your ride share.”

Nope. That’s impossible. I shake my head. “I didn’t select a ride share.”

“I can assure you, you did.” She smiles at me, all cunning and sly. “Hence the ride share.”

I’m positive I didn’t, because I gritted my teeth at having to pay Uber’s thirty percent surge charge as I clicked the button for the private ride that would get me to my interview much quicker.

The woman isn’t being helpful, so I lean over the front seat to address Santa. “Is this a ride share?”

“Yep,” he says, grinning back at me in a conspiratorial male way of silently saying—This is your lucky day, buddy—before slowly pulling out onto the road.

Dude, it is so not my lucky day. I’m out of options and can’t wait for another car so I resign myself to my fate.

I settle into the seat, and slick back my wet hair. Droplets of water fly in the woman’s direction and it gives me a perverse sense of satisfaction.

With a huff, she brushes them off her sleeve and gives me an arched once over. “Do you mind? I have an important meeting.”

“Right there, with ya, red,” I say, contemplating a fantasy of getting out of the car, away from her, and magically getting to my interview on time. I glance at my watch, there’s only a slim chance in hell.

“‘Red, how original.” Her voice is mocking as she shakes her head.

My eyelid begins to twitch. Blepharospasm. I mentally recite the medical term. A leftover study trick from med school I’ve never kicked the habit of, despite being a fifth-year surgical resident.

I give her a scornful smile. “I’m not looking to be original, I’m looking to make it to a crucial interview.”

She shrugs. “You should have planned better.”

I do not care how unbelievably hot she is, I do not like her, and she’s a convenient person to take out my agitation on, especially since the driver claimed her the culprit of this predicament. I glare at her. “I had plenty of time, if you guys hadn’t shown up twenty minutes late.”

She clucks her tongue. “Sorry about that. I had to do an emergency errand.” She reaches over and pats Santa on the shoulder. “Barney here was kind enough stop before we picked you up.”

He winks back at me, like this is all good fun and not my life. “Can you blame me?”

I literally feel my blood pressure rising.

She laughs and it’s rich and throaty, sending chills through me much akin to nails on a chalkboard.

I can definitely blame him.

Of course, she was the reason we were late.

There’s a part of me that wants to engage, to argue this out with her, if only to release some of my pent-up frustration, but reason prevails. I will not get into an argument. If I fight with her, I’ll have no chance of getting out of this godforsaken car before her. But, if I can convince them to drop me first, I have a slim chance of being only a few minutes late. Combined with my soaked attire, not the best impression, but it’s not hopeless.

It’s the only chance I have.

I quell my growing by-the-minute agitation, put on my calmest, most pleasant expression before shifting my attention to the woman beside me. She has to be reasonable, right? What they say about redheads can’t possibly be true, can it?

I force a smile to my lips, hoping to appeal to her sense of decency and desperation. “Is there any possible way you’d be willing to drop me first? I’m sure Barney here would appreciate your company for a little longer, and if I don’t get to this interview immediately, they’ll move on to someone else.”

“Am I first, Barney?” she asks, leaning over the seat and displaying a long, lean neck.

Everything about the woman is long, and even though she’s sitting, I’m guessing she’s five-ten or eleven.

“Sure are, lovely.” He meets my eyes in the rear-view mirror and shrugs.

Goddamn beautiful women. They get away with everything.

I want to yell that I’m late because she stopped off to do an errand, but that doesn’t seem prudent. If I want her to change her mind, I need to be nice. Being a dick will get me nowhere. I take a deep breath, blowing it out before turning my attention back to her. “I appreciate that, so how about this, I’ll pay for your ride if you let him drop me off first.”

She crosses her arms over her chest, her expression turning mulish. “I understand your predicament, and if I wasn’t in the same predicament, I’d do it in a heartbeat, but I can’t be late either.”

Deep breaths. Be calm. Maybe if she understood. I normally don’t make a big deal about what I do for a living, but I’m making an exception for the sake of saving this interview. I smile, soft and gentle, giving her the one I reserve for scared parents worried their child will be scarred for life, and then I begin to beg. I’m not ashamed. I’m not above it, especially if it will save this morning. “Please, I’m a surgeon and I’m interviewing for a fellowship. If I miss my time, I won’t get another chance.”

Spine stiffening, her jaw sets in a hard line. “Just because you’re a doctor doesn’t mean your engagement is more important than mine.”

Unreasonable, cursed woman. I keep my tone calm and reasonable. “I’m not saying it’s more important, only trying to express the gravity of my situation.”

Intent, she studies me for a few moments. “What kind of fellowship?”

Hope surges through me. “Reconstructive surgery.”

She frowns, scoffing. “Well, I’m due in court, and Judge Barnes doesn’t care much for me, and has zero tolerance for lateness. Sorry, I can’t risk my client’s future so you can give better boob jobs.”

I growl. I open my mouth to explain that I don’t do boob jobs, but glance out the window in time to see the driver turn in the direction opposite of Northwestern. She’s a fucking lawyer; she argues her point for a living. There’s no way she’ll change her mind. With a deep breath, I accept my fate. What’s ten more minutes?

I’m already fucked.

I shrug, not bothering to explain further. “Fine. You win.”

I shift against the seat and turn to stare out the window.

The sooner I’m rid of this woman the better.

Rain beats down on the car and we crawl through the city, finally stopping in front of a courthouse.

“Thanks so much, Barney.” Her voice is sickly sweet before she turns to me, and then it transforms into a scowl. “I can’t say it’s been a pleasure meeting you.”

I glare at her. “Right back at ya, red.”

She huffs, opens the door, flicks open a big umbrella, and slams out of the car.

“How about those legs, huh?” Santa leers at her from the front seat.

She practically gallops up the steps, her stride powerful. I clench my hand into a fist.

My day pretty much goes downhill from there.

 

#

Fleur

I don’t know why I feel kind of bad about the Uber guy from this morning, or why I’m still thinking about him, but I do and I am. He’d obviously been having a shitty day, and I hadn’t helped matters. The only reason I’d even taken a ride share was because it was the only car not fifteen minutes away.

I keep telling myself it wasn’t my fault the guy hadn’t planned accordingly. That it’s not my job to rearrange my schedule because he’d been late. That I’m obsessing about it at all, surprises me.

I’m normally a hard ass, taking no shit from anyone, which is pretty much a job requirement for an overworked, underpaid public defender. If I wasn’t, prosecutors would walk all over me, and I can’t have that.

Thankless job is making me cynical. If I'm honest, I don’t know why I do it. I’d been offered six-figure jobs when I’d graduated law school, in some of the best firms in the country. I could be living in some fabulous Manhattan apartment, wearing designer suits and living the dream. But no, instead I’m making fifty thousand a year, wearing a suit from TJ Maxx, working on a metal desk in an underfunded office with an endless caseload.

Yep, I’m a smart one. But, the truth is, something inside me wants to help the people that are disadvantaged in our society and mass incarceration reform is one of my passions.

I blame my activist parents and all their “lessons”. The bastards.

So, despite the Uber guy having a shitty day, I couldn’t be late. If I had been late, eighteen-year-old Jamal would have had to spend another night in jail, and I couldn’t have stood that.

He’s the defendant I do this job for. The one in a million case. A true innocent. The boy has the soul of a poet, and had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, I couldn’t let him suffer any more than he already has.

What was I supposed to do? Let the doctor get to his boob fellowship?

I’d done the right thing, and Jamal slept in his bed tonight. I should find peace in that, but the disgruntled doctor still tugs at me.

I’m almost entirely sure it had nothing to do with him being so good looking.

Even soaking wet, he’d been something to marvel at. I don’t even like blonds, but on him—I shiver a little—on him, it worked. His shoulders had been broad, his body fine, but his face, sweet Jesus. Strong jaw. High cheekbones, sharp enough to cut glass. A full mouth. But the real killer had been his eyes, he had these crazy hazel eyes that practically glowed.

My best friend, Audrey, jostles my arm. “Where are you off to?”

I snap back to my surroundings. The sounds of the Friday night crowd in the trendy bar on Fulton Market blares into stereo.

I shift my attention to my closest and dearest friend. We’d met in eighth grade English class and she’s everything I am not. She’s a cute-as-a-button, tiny brunette, with a curvy little body and a killer smile. She’s sweet to my snark. Light to my dark. Good to my evil. The only thing we have in common is a shared history, love for each other, and the ability to take our skills and use them in the least lucrative way possible.

Audrey is the head vet at a no-kill animal rescue center.

I wave a hand. “Oh nothing.”

I can’t keep letting Uber guy distract me, it’s time to get on with serious end-of-week business. Every Friday night after work Audrey and I go to a new bar that has a happy hour. We stuff our faces with appetizers, and down exotic drink specials to decompress from our hectic weeks. A ritual we’d established long ago and one we never miss unless it’s unavoidable. Dates with men do not qualify as unavoidable. Neither do family dinners.

Weddings, funerals, and mandatory work events are the only acceptable excuses.

She’s my rock and I need her to keep me from going insane. After a couple hours with her, all the hard edges smooth away and my week seems funny and hopeful instead of sad.

Audrey raises a brow. “Are you still thinking about the Uber guy?”

Of course I told her all about what happened this morning the second I sat down. I shrug and wrinkle my nose. “I can’t help it, I feel bad.”

“Well don’t, you were going in front of Judge Barnes, you could not be late.”

She knows all about my run-ins with the evil Judge Barnes, who once threatened to hold me in contempt of court because I dared to argue with him. He’s not a fan and will use any reason he gets to screw with me.

I sigh. “I know, it’s silly. It’s not like I’ll ever see him again, so what does it matter?”

Audrey takes another sip of her fruity drink, licking her lips before speaking. “Exactly. Besides, he was a plastic surgeon, right? You couldn’t get on Barnes’s bad side for a guy that performs facelifts and boob jobs for rich wives. You did the right thing. Trust me.”

Well…actually…I’m not sure. He’d said reconstruction, but that’s code for plastic surgery, isn’t it? I’m pretty sure that’s what they call it these days? But it’s still niggling at me.

I take a sip of my Knob Creek, hissing at the bite before I nod. “Yeah, you’re right.”

So I was a bitch to him. He rubbed me the wrong way and instinct took over. It’s not the end of the world.

“Can I buy you a drink?” A deep male voice asks from behind us.

Audrey and I both swing around on our stools to see who the intruder might be talking to. We are polar opposites in looks, so it’s anyone’s guess who his target is.

The man in front of us is a handsome guy, no question about it. With dark brown hair and eyes, he’s dressed in a navy suit, tie loosened around his neck. By the look of him, I’m guessing he’s in finance. Maybe one of those hedge fund guys.

His eyes are on me, all focused and intent.

I’m the bull’s eye. Poor guy.

I smile. “Sure, as long as you don’t mind returning to your seat after the bill comes.” I pick up my drink and take another sip. “This isn’t an open party.”

His gaze loses all seduction, and he shoves his hands into his pockets. “Never mind.”

I smirk. “I thought so.”

He takes his leave and I swing back to Audrey. “Where were we?”

She shakes her head. “You’re so mean.”

“Whatever. One look and you know he’s a player.”

She shakes her head at me. “You think all men are players.”

I laugh. “That’s because all the men that hit on me are.”

“That’s not true.”

“Is so.” It’s like my curse. Not to brag, but with my looks, arrogant assholes and kindly old men, like my Uber driver, Barney, are the only males who dare talk to me. Nice men, men who don’t dick around and are interested in intelligent conversation, are almost always terrified of me. It’s a well-known, established fact that any man who approaches me in a bar during Friday happy hour probably screws women for sport.

“You’re jaded,” Audrey says, raising her eyes to the tiled ceiling as though praying for me.

“Yeah, because I have reason to be.” I’d been screwed over by three of these men, but luckily the third time was the charm and I’d broken up with the habit.

Needless to say, I no longer date much. Which suits me just fine. I’ve come to the determination that men are more trouble than they’re worth.

Audrey touches my arm. “Not all guys are like that, he was cute, at least let him buy you a drink and give him a chance to impress you.”

I scoff. “Trust me, I know the type. He thinks he’s a god in bed, and believe me, he definitely isn’t.” No man is. All men say they are, or think they are, but most of them are selfish and suck in the sack. I’m much better at giving myself orgasms, thank you very much.

Audrey laughs. “Oh my god, how can you possibly know that? He asked to buy you a drink, not take you to the bathroom and go down on you.”

“Believe me, in five minutes he would have been making stupid innuendos like, I won’t bite…yet, and trying to talk me back to his place.” I take a sip of my drink, licking the sugar from my lips. “I want a nice guy.”

“Please, you’re delusional, you’d eat a nice guy for breakfast.”

“I would not.” A nice guy would let me be soft, or at least, that’s my theory. I don’t know in practice. I’ll work up the energy to find out at some point.

Audrey sighs, exasperated with me as usual.

I pat her hand. “My sweet, innocent friend, you don’t understand. You have excellent luck with men. You don’t know what it’s like to be a magnet to dickheads. Someday, I hope to find a nice, loyal, dependable guy, but until then I’m not interested in dealing with the hassle. Sex just isn’t worth it.”

“It’s not, huh?” Another male voice, low and somehow familiar, sounds from over my shoulder.

I roll my eyes at Audrey but she’s focused on the man at my back, her eyes a bit wide. I swing around.

My heart begins a rapid pound and my mouth falls open as I gape before shrieking, “It’s you!”

The Uber guy from this morning smirks down at me. “It’s me.”

Mother fucker.

 

 

 

Twist of Fate

Twist of Fate

Series: Love & Other Disasters #3

Release Date: February 6, 2018

Genre: adult, contemporary romance

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I’m trapped in the Uber ride from hell with the most despicable man on the planet.

He might be something to look at, but he’s soaking wet, ornery and has an attitude I don’t appreciate. I’m willing to overlook the flaws to be civil and the bigger person, but he has the gall to suggest his interview for some boob job fellowship is more important than my court case. Some nerve, right? I can’t be rid him fast enough.

It’s twenty minutes of my life. I’m a public defender so I can certainly handle him. Twenty little minutes and I’ll never see him again as long as I live.

Yeah, right.

Apparently, fate hates me.

 

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