Read an Excerpt
Sola Morte, a.k.a. Marisol Maria Rafaela Carvalho, opened the sliding door, pulling the glass panel out of the way. Even though it was past midnight and into January, the ocean air that greeted her was seventy degrees and humid, a sweet kiss as opposed to a frigid slap. After a year of living in Miami, however, she was no longer pleasantly surprised. The kinder climate had become, like the slow pace, the palm trees, the beaches and the tides, simply part of life.
Exotic was a function of rarity, and so, as with beauty, was in the eye of the beholder.
Now, the snow-covered pines of Caldwell, New York, would be captivating and unusual.
Shaking her head, she tried to stick to the present. The “terrace” for this fifth-floor condo she shared with her grandmother was nothing more than a shelf with a railing, the sort of outdoor space added not for the functional utility and enjoyment of the owners, but so “ocean terrace” could be included in the sales description of the building’s thirty units. And come to think of it, the “ocean” part was also a fudge, as it was Biscayne Bay, not the Atlantic, she was overlooking. Still, water was water, and when you couldn’t sleep, it was more interesting than staring at your ceiling.
She’d kitted out the two-bedroom, two-bath place about three years ago, buying setups from Rooms To Go because they were priced right and someone else had done the thinking about throw pillows and color combinations. And then for her “luxury” “ocean” terrace, she’d hit Target and scored two yellow-and-white lawn chairs and a coffee table. The former worked fine. The latter had a translucent plastic top with what had turned out to be annoying waves in its surface. Nothing sat flush on it.
On that note, she parked herself in the chair on the left. “Full moon tonight.”
As her voice drifted off, she stared across the nocturnal vista. Directly in front of her, there were a number of short houses, old ones built in the forties, and then a series of crappy T-shirt shops, bodegas, and cantinas between her and the beach. To say that she and her vovó lived in Miami was similar to the terrace-false-advertising thing. They were actually on the northern knife-edge of the city limits, well away from the mansions and nightlife, although she was willing to bet that in about ten years, this down-market neighborhood was going to get a glitzy overhaul.
Fine with her. She’d have a great return on her cash investment and—
Oh, who was she kidding. They weren’t going to be here for more than another year.
She had another bolt-hole in California and one in Toronto. After they cycled through those, it was going to be somewhere else.
For her, there were few requirements for establishing a home base: cash purchase, Catholic church within blocks, and a good Latino market close by.
As a breeze rolled up and played through her newly-blonded hair, she sat forward because it was hard to stay still. The repositioning didn’t last, and not just because the top railing now blocked the view of the bay. Easing back, she tapped the heel of her flip-flop, the metronome of restless energy only bearable because it was her own foot doing the up and down, and, at least theoretically, she could stop it.
To say that memory was a lane you could walk along, a path to follow, a linear progression you embarked on from start to finish, was way off base. After this past year, she had decided it was more like a piano keyboard, and the musical notes her mind played in the form of moving-picture images were a pick-and-choose determined more by the sheet music of her mourning than the well-founded logic of her decision to leave Caldwell.
For example, if she were rational about things, she would be focusing on what it had been like to come home one night and have those attackers abduct her as her grandmother roused and started to come down the stairs. Then she would recall her trip up north in the trunk of a car. Yup . . . if she were smart, her brain would be projecting a slide show about her taking a lit flare and stabbing it into the eye socket of the man who yanked her out of the back of that sedan. She would picture herself getting shot in the leg as she had tried to run away through the forest, and then remember the cell with the bars in the underground level of that torture camp.
She would visualize with precise detail the thug with the two-toned face who had stripped her and tried to rape her—until she had twisted his nuts and beat his head in with a heavy chain.
And finally, she would see herself dragging a dead man across the floor to try to use his fingerprint to open the way out. And when that didn’t work, she would retrace her steps as she returned to the basement and pulled that two-toned attempted rapist’s arm through the bars of a cell so she could take a kitchen knife and cut the hand off at the wrist.
How about recalling the successful use of that still-warm thumb on the keypad to open the steel door? Or bursting out of that hellhole wearing nothing but a parka and the blood of the two human beings she had killed?
But nah, those were not the notes her cerebral Steinway played.
As tunes went, the one that her brain kept on repeat was altogether different and far more destructive.
Even though it was certainly sexier—
“Stop it.” She rubbed her eyes. “Just stop.”
Above the landlocked bay, over the breakwater rim of North Beach, the moon was a great silver plate, its illumination hazy and tickled by wisps of clouds.
Assail’s eyes had been like that, silver with a deep purple rim.
And she guessed they still were, assuming he was alive—although with the kind of life he was leading? Drug lords were in risk pools over and above the generic ones like cancer and heart disease.
Not that she had judged him for his choice of business—come on, her profession as a burglar was how she’d ended up in that trunk.
Such odd, hypnotizing eyes he’d had. Like nothing she had ever seen, and no, that was not romanticizing on her part. As with his strange name, and the accent that she couldn’t quite place—was it German? French? Romanian?—and the mystery that surrounded him, he had been what other men had never come close to: irresistible. With hair so black, she’d assumed it had been dyed, and a widow’s peak on that high, autocratic forehead, and his powerful body and sex drive, she had often felt that he was a figment from some other world.
A deadly presence.
A gorgeous predator.
An animal in human skin.
Between one blink and the next, she saw him the night he had come to rescue her from that camp—but not as he had approached her with open arms and a calm voice just as she had run out of that steel door, all wounded and disorientated. No, she remembered him a short time later, when he had somehow met her at a rest stop some twenty miles down the highway.
She had never understood how it was possible that he had stayed behind as his cousins had driven off with her—and yet Assail had caught up with them as if he could fly.
And then there was what he’d looked like. His mouth had been covered with blood as if he had bitten someone. And those silver and purple eyes had shone brighter than this moon in this southern sky with the light in them so unholy, it had seemed the stuff of exorcism.
Yet she had not been afraid of him—and she had also known at that moment that Benloise, her captor, had not lived. Assail had somehow killed her kidnapper, and in all likelihood, his brother, Eduardo.
It was the way of the business they had all been in. And the way of the life she had been determined to leave after she had healed.
After all, when you were held by madmen and prayed to God to see your grandmother again, and that actually happened? Only a fool didn’t keep their end of the bargain.
Sola pushed her fingertips into her forehead and tried to get her brain off the well-worn path it seemed determine to process and re-process—even though it was a year later, for godsakes. She couldn’t believe she was so fixated on a sound decision that she had made with her own survival at the forefront.
Nights were still the worst. During the day, when she was busy with such high-level endeavors as grocery shopping, and going to mass with her vovó, and constantly looking out from under the brim of a baseball cap to see if they were being followed, she managed better. But with the darkness came the haunting, the ghost of a man she never should have slept with tormenting her.
She had long been aware that she had a death wish. Her attraction to Assail was confirmation of that, and then some.
Hell, she didn’t even know his last name. For all the spying on him that she had been hired to do, and then that which she had done on her own, she knew almost nothing about him. He had a glass house on the Hudson that was owned by a real estate trust. His two closest associates were his twin cousins, and both were as mute as brick walls when it came to his personal details. He’d had no wife or children.
At least not around him, but who knew. A man like that certainly had plenty of options for companionship.
Shifting to the side, she took her old iPhone out and looked at its black screen. When she woke the thing up, there was a picture of the beach from back right after she had arrived here.
No texts, no missed calls, no voicemails.
For a long while, she had had these regular hang-ups from a restricted number.
The intermittent calls were the only reason she’d kept the phone. Who else would be reaching her on it except for Assail? Who else had the number? It wasn’t the phone she’d used with Benloise or any of her shadowy business, and the account was under an alias. He was the only one who had the digits.
She really should have left the thing up north and canceled the service. Clean cut was best. The safest.
The issue seemed to have resolved itself, however. Assuming Assail had been the one calling, he’d stopped—and maybe it wasn’t because he’d found his grave. He had probably moved on—which was what people did when they got left behind. The whole pining-away-for-a-lifetime thing only happened in Victorian novels, and then usually on the woman’s side.
Yeah, no Mr. Havisham going on up north. No way—
Another memory took her back in time, and it was one she hated. Even after Benloise had ordered her off the trail, she had followed Assail out to an estate, to what had appeared to be a caretaker’s cottage. He hadn’t gone there for a business transaction. No, it was for a dark-haired woman with a body and a half, and he’d taken her down onto a sofa like he’d done it before. Just as he’d started to have sex with her, he had looked directly at the window Sola had been watching him through—as if he were putting on the show for her.
At that point, she had decided to pull out of the surveilling and had resolved never to see him again.
Fate had had different ideas, however. And had turned her silver-eyed drug dealer into a savior.
The sad thing was, under different circumstances, she might have stayed with him in that glass house of his. But in the end, her little deal with God had superseded that kind of fantasy.
Getting to her feet, she lingered at the rail for a while longer, wondering exactly what she hoped she would find in the view. Then she turned away, shut herself back in the condo, and kicked off her flip-flops. On silent, bare feet, she whispered through the living room area and went into the kitchen. Her grandmother’s standards were such that not only could you eat off the floor, you could toss a salad in any of the drawers, roll your bread dough out inside the cupboards, and use the shelving to cut your steak on.
The tool kit was under the sink, and she got out a full-sized hammer.
The iPhone went into a double Ziploc bag–setup on her way to the door and she disengaged the alarm before exiting into the corridor. The fire stairwell was down on the right, and as she strode over to it, she listened out of habit, but not necessity. The people in the building were elderly, and what little she saw of them confirmed she had chosen the right unit. This was the land of snowbirds who didn’t have the money to fly up and back for the spring and summer, so the building never emptied out.
There would always be nosy witnesses, even if those eyes and ears were not quite as sharp as they had once been. And her fellow residents represented a complication that people coming after her would think twice about.