Home > The Fractured Heart (Second Circle Tattoos #2)

The Fractured Heart (Second Circle Tattoos #2)
Scarlett Cole

CHAPTER ONE

What the hell was that noise?

It sounded like the porch planter tumbling down the steps.

In total darkness, Drea Caron patted her rickety cane bedside table until she felt the smooth surface of her phone. Forcing one eye open, she turned it on and checked the clock. Four in the morning. Whoever had caused the awful noise, severing her tenuous connection to sleep, was going to die. Slowly, in a vat of hot tar.

Unless it was someone trying to break in, in which case the smart move was to dial 911 before barricading herself in the bathroom.

Muted curses and Miami’s muggy attempt at fall weather drifted in through the open bedroom window. Both equally suffocating.

The initial panic receded with recognition of the speaker’s angry tone.

Drea rubbed her hand across her forehead, blinking repeatedly, and pushed back the sheets. She slipped her feet into a pair of flip-flops and shuffled down the stairs, avoiding the loose threads of the worn carpet.

The living room, which housed a bed and an array of medical equipment, was empty. The oxygen pump hissed unpredictably. Short static bursts followed by long drawn-out gasps of oxygen so unlike the precise rhythm it usually maintained. The mask had been cast aside, the cables a mess on the floor.

Damn. Getting it repaired or replaced was more money than they could afford.

Drea yawned. The front door was ajar. Wisps of swirling white smoke drifted past the opening.

“Mom,” she cried, hurrying outside, “what are you doing?” Drea scrunched her nose, the smell of acrid smoke burning the back of her throat.

Rosa Caron waved her hand furiously in the air, a feeble attempt to hide the evidence.

“Mom, I see the smoke. You know what the doctors said. Where did you get the cigarettes from?”

“It’s none of your business.” Rosa took a long draw on the cigarette. “And I needed one.”

“No, you don’t.” Drea leaned over and grabbed the cigarette. She flung it to the floor, extinguishing it on the industrial gray concrete. “Your lungs can’t handle it, Mom. You paid the kids down the street again.” Drea shook her head. “Where did you get the money?”

“I gave them your mima’s locket.”

“Por qué, Mamá?” Drea paused, struggling to keep her voice even. “How could you?” It would do no good to yell at her mother—she’d learned that long ago—but the locket was the only thing she had left of the wonderful woman who had died when Drea was nine.

“You didn’t need it. Anyway, you’d be happy if I died sooner,” she wheezed, “not so much of a burden.” Rosa turned the wheelchair around and went back into the house.

Drea reached for the spot where the necklace usually lay against her skin. It was cruel, and yet so very much like Rosa she should have anticipated it. Memories of her mima fiddling with it while she read Drea stories choked her. The loss of the closest thing to a family heirloom left her bereft. She fisted the hand by her side. It was done, and while her heart wept for the loss, Drea knew she had no choice but to move on.

Large shards of the terracotta planter that used to sit by the front door were strewn down the steps. Her mom must have knocked it over with her wheelchair. The plant was a dried-out clump on the cracked concrete driveway below, and Drea made a mental note to remember to water the small garden border when she had time. Time. A bitter laugh escaped and she closed her eyes, letting the warm breeze caress her. Time was one thing she didn’t have. She’d been in bed for the sum total of four hours and was now wide awake.

She walked down the porch stairs to grab the broken pieces, avoiding the cracked, broken third step. The planter clattered noisily into the garbage can.

The newly cut layers of her hair fluttered around her face, tickling her nose. Sitting in the chair of a student at the beauty school instead of her favorite salon had been a new low, but the haircut was free. The highlights hadn’t been part of the plan, a caramel-toned reminder to read the fine print when she signed up for something. But once she’d gotten over the shock of no longer being a straight-up brunette, she’d actually liked it.

Drea walked back inside, the cool air hitting her immediately. She prayed for the day she could tuck the energy-guzzling window air conditioner back into the garage. One less thing to pay for.

She helped her mom from the wheelchair to the bed, her mom’s labored breathing a reflection of her latest BODE score. That was her world, Drea thought as she shut down the oxygen pump, reduced to a series of four-letter acronyms. COPD: chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder. Four fancy words meaning fucked-up lungs. BODE: the depressing letters that assessed her mom’s survival rate over the next four years to be zero percent. The gasping her mom was doing right now, proof. Every doctor she had spoken to told her the same thing. It was only a matter of time.

One of the tubes gave slightly, sliding fully onto its connector, and Drea turned the machine back on. The reassuring wheeze and hiss returned to the room, a metronome for the severely ill.

“Nobody cares for me. I’m such a burden to everyone.” Rosa stopped Drea as she attempted to put the mask back on. “Celine told me she is taking me to the doctor’s today. Why can’t you? I want to go with you.”

“Because, Mom,” she said, used to the manipulative strategies, “I’ll be working extra hours at the café. José has an emergency dental appointment. He needs me to cover the end of his shift and we need the money. Aunt Celine is more than happy to take you, please be nice to her when she gets here.”

Rosa rolled her eyes and looked out the window. “Well, if you worked a double more often, I wouldn’t have to put up with this piece of crap.” Rosa waved her hand weakly toward the pump.

Drea rushed the mask over her mom’s head to avoid any further insults. She’d looked after the two of them financially, and every other way, since she was seventeen. A whole decade had gone by. But over the last year things had gotten tough. Any financial cushion had long since disappeared, taking her hopes of going to college right along with it.

There’d be no going back to bed now. The kitchen clock said it was nearly five. Might as well get a jump-start on the day. Coming up, an exhausting double shift, starting at ten and finishing late. But before then she had a meeting, with a man. One she was dreading. On a brighter note, she had plenty of time to utilize every piece of ammunition in her girlie arsenal.

He had no idea what was coming.

* * *

Working the Miami flight. Tonight a good night for a layover? Becca xoxo

Brody “Cujo” Matthews smiled as he got out of his pride and joy—his F-150—and juggled his phone, artwork for a new client, and a half-eaten scrambled egg burrito with black bean salsa. Gripping his phone between his teeth, he opened the back door to Second Circle Tattoos, run by his best friend, Trent Andrews. In truth, it was half his, but by agreement, they kept that quiet.

He dropped all of his belongings on a cupboard containing supplies and walked to the front of the shop to turn off the alarm. As he keyed in the number, he looked at the picture on the wall next to the keypad—the day they’d opened the studio. He still had long hair. A week after the photograph was taken, he’d cut it all off. He ran his fingers over his short hair. He’d shaved his head bald in the years since then, but some little half-pint whirling dervish had recently told him he looked like a bully, and for reasons he didn’t care to explore, it had bothered him. So here he was, in the shitty growing-your-hair-out phase, and he hated it.

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