Excerpt

Checkmate Ever After

Episode One: Pawn Takes Rook

WHEN I first saw Rook, he was cracking the skulls of two goons like eggs into a skillet. I sat there on my butt like a freaked-out choir boy between the trash cans lining the alley behind Ted’s TV Tabernacle, gazing in awe and wonder. Rook had hands that could mold steel like Dollar General Play-Doh. He did just that, wadding up Random Thug Number One’s Louisville Slugger into a sadistic snowball and beaning the guy right in the ear. Getting snow in your ear has to be the most excruciating sensation in existence. I can’t imagine getting Kentucky’s finest steel shoved into your noggin.

I don’t remember if I screamed. I likely did. Totally did.

Random Thug Number Two went flying past me in an expert over-the-shoulder throw, his open mouth smacking wetly into the bricks. Broken teeth bounced over the sidewalk. Random Thug Number Three ducked behind the trash cans opposite me. He popped up once in a while, hidden behind the mound of bags and cans. His alligator eyes inched over the unfolding scene from the safe vantage point of the trash bag swamp.

Rook surveyed the alley, making sure he had gotten them all. He snorted a puff of steam with menacing satisfaction at seeing one guy out cold and another on the fast track for full dentures before sixty. Then he came over to me. Now, when I say he was smoldering, that’s totally what he was doing. Smoke rose off his tattered trench coat in ethereal coils. Rook’s smoking frame could have been caused by the chill of the oncoming winter and the steam of sweat, but it definitely added to the sexy first impression.

His eyes, oh my Christ on a cracker…. They were not quite blue, not quite green, but like that girl on the National Geographic cover. Those haunting Afghan eyes.

“Are you okay?” Rook rumbled in a perfect antiheroic growl while reaching for my hand. His fingers—broad, callused, and strong—hung there long enough to cue the musical montage in my head. I couldn’t believe it. The one and only Memphis Rook had swaggered into my mugging, ready to bust heads. It was like he’d planned it, really. Or our universes collided in some awesome poetic way. I couldn’t think straight at the moment because, holy crap, those hands were huge!

That was when Random Thug Number Three opposite me decided to ruin the amazing moment by popping up like a spring-loaded Halloween skeleton and launching himself at Rook.

Rook turned in a smooth whoosh of muscle and fabric, and I shrieked as the knife skewered his gut. He latched on to his killer’s knife hand in surprise.

“Oh God, oh God, oh God!” I screamed. I knew in that infinitesimally dark moment, I was going to die alongside the guy who’d fought in vain to save my life.

Confused, the thug glared at him, then his captured wrist, and back again. “W-what are you?” he stammered as courage ran down his pant leg.

Rook released him. The thug held up the knife with the blade crumpled onto itself like a bullet that impacted a Kevlar plate. The thug backpedaled, falling over a black plastic trash can after slipping on a greasy Five Guys burger wrapper. He screeched, twisting in an about-face, then got to his feet and ran like a kid who had spilled orange juice on his dad’s vintage Playboys.

Rook turned those Afghan eyes on me, and the musical montage returned. The sleepy, sultry lyrics to “Dream Weaver” crooned in my head, along with the accompanying halo of sparkles. His hand, those powerful, thick fingers, reached for mine….

And then he flat fuck fell over in my lap like a Buick dropped from low earth orbit. Steam rose from his body in the not-so-sexy eau de parfum of burned rubber and gasoline. He lay there, crushing my pancreas while out cold.

And that’s how Memphis Rook fucked up my life.

By coming into it.