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Authors: Allison Van Diepen

Light of Day

BOOK: Light of Day
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DEDICATION

For Jeremy

CONTENTS
MYSTERY GUY

HE WAS WATCHING ME FROM
across the club. Magnetic blue eyes, square jaw, steady gaze.

I liked it.

Not that Maria and I were short on male attention tonight. Right now, as we leaned on the bar, we were chatting with a slick guy in his late twenties who'd called us the most beautiful girls in Miami. A little over the top, but Maria was lapping it up.

I still couldn't believe we'd gotten into the Space, the newest hot spot in South Beach. The club was shaped like a giant, futuristic cube, with black-mirrored walls and two levels packed with people. Lucky for us, Maria's brother's friend worked the door and had accepted our fake IDs with a wink.

“Another round for the ladies,” Raul said to the bartender. He wasn't my type, with the gold chains, chest hair, and fat gold rings. But Maria wasn't being picky tonight. She'd just been through an awful breakup. Her boyfriend had slept with her cousin—the type of betrayal you'd only hear about on a trashy talk show.

Maria gave me a nudge, and I knew she wanted a few minutes alone with Raul. If I had been brave, I'd have sent a drink over to Blue Eyes, who was sitting by himself near the dance floor. If I were even braver, I'd carry the drink over myself. But I wasn't brave, so I went to the bathroom instead.

I took my time, checking my appearance in the mirror, the curly black hair, dark eyes, red lips, white teeth, and lingering summer tan. I wore a little white dress with black zebra stripes up the sides. Totally chic, but who was I kidding? No one here would think I was twenty-one. I was three months shy of eighteen, and looked it.

When I left the bathroom, Blue Eyes was outside. He was taller than I'd thought, his broad shoulders blocking the cramped hallway. I wasn't sure if this was good or creepy, but I was definitely leaning toward good.

“Hey there,” he said.

God, he was cute. Light brown hair. Mesmerizing eyes. A young Channing Tatum except for one thing—you could tell his nose had been broken.

“Hey.” I gave him my best smile. “I'm Gabby.”

He didn't return the smile. “That guy you're talking to. He's dangerous.”

I frowned. “What do you mean?”

“I saw him slip roofies in your drinks. Your friend's already started drinking hers. You haven't. I'd keep it that way.”

My jaw dropped. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah. He's gonna want you and your friend to leave with him. I wouldn't go if I were you.”

“We won't.” My anger surged. “We know one of the doormen. He'll throw his ass out of here.” I started to move past him, anxious to get to Maria, but he put up a hand to stop me.

“No. Don't involve the bouncers, and don't confront him. You can't prove anything.”

“I'll call the police, then. Maybe they can test the drinks.”

He shook his head. “There's no way they'd do that. Best thing you can do is walk.”

I was about to argue but stopped myself. This guy was on my side. If it hadn't been for him, I wouldn't have even known what was happening.

“Okay,” I agreed. “Thanks for telling me.”

A faint smile. “Glad to help.”

I headed back to the bar, my feet faltering in my three-inch heels. Steadying myself, I observed Maria and Raul with new eyes. Maria was laughing at whatever he'd said, and his arm
was locked around her waist. His game plan was so obvious now. Raul had targeted the youngest, most innocent-looking girls in the club, especially the vulnerable one whose sad eyes made her a prime target.

I continued across the room and slipped onto the barstool beside Maria. “Sorry to interrupt, guys,” I said, touching Maria's arm. “My stomach isn't feeling so good. We'd better call it a night.”

Raul snapped his fingers at the bartender. “Some water over here, please.” He turned to me. “Slow it down, honey, you'll be fine. You probably need some food.”

“It's not that.” I made an ick face, putting a hand over my stomach. “I think it was a bad burrito.”

Maria's mouth fell open, as if to say,
Are you kidding me?
“What burrito? We just had burgers.”

“I had it for lunch, okay? I'm really not feeling well.”

She scowled. “Fine. Just let me finish this.” She took a long sip of her drink.

I wanted to snatch it from her, but if I did, Raul would realize I was onto him. Who knew how he'd react? “Sorry, but I can't wait. Let's get a cab.”

“Forget a cab, I'll take you both home,” Raul said, silky smooth. “I'm parked outside.”

I didn't let go of her arm. “No thanks, we're good.”

He glared at me. My insides turned cold.

That's what he wants,
I realized.
To weaken me.

No way. Not when my friend is in jeopardy.

I had to get Maria out of here. Now.

Unfortunately, she was on Raul's side. “Jesus, Gabby, let's take the ride.”

“I'm worried I'll puke in his car.” I put a hand on my stomach again and made a retching motion as if I was going to throw up any second.

Raul's nostrils flared, but he released Maria. Then he walked away—without saying good-bye, without asking for her phone number. He just left.

Maria turned on me. “Did you have to be so gross about it? You scared him off. He was a cool guy. He has a fucking Benz!”

“Let's just go, okay?”

I hustled her outside, glancing around to see if our bouncer friend was still manning the door. But he wasn't there, damn it.

Although cabs were all over the strip at this time of night, you had to be fast to snag one. And we weren't. Maria was going into slow motion, her speech slurring as she bitched at me. I held her arm, not wanting to risk leaving her for even a minute to run into traffic for a cab. If I did, she could pass out on the sidewalk. Or, worse, Raul might still be around, waiting to swoop in.

“I got you,” said a male voice, startling me.

I turned to see Blue Eyes striding past me into the street. He raised a hand and stepped into the path of the next cab, directing it to the curb in front of us.

Relieved, I helped Maria into the backseat. Over the top of the cab, I said, “Thank you.”

His eyes glittered. “No probs.”

Then I got in.

Usually the sunlight spilling through my curtains and the blue sky outside my window wiped away whatever heaviness I carried from the night before.

Not today.

Even in sleep, Raul's stare hadn't released me. My mind played one scenario after another of what might've happened if Blue Eyes hadn't warned me about the roofies. My brain insisted on imagining every graphic detail.

But Blue Eyes
had
been there, thank God. And he'd watched over us until he was sure we were out of harm's way.

I wished I'd gotten his name, maybe even slipped him my number. If he'd been watching me so closely that he saw Raul drug our drinks, did that mean he was interested? He couldn't have been watching Maria, because she was obviously heavy into Raul. And yet when we'd spoken outside the bathrooms, he'd been all business.

There was no point in wondering about it now. I'd done the only thing I could do—I'd gotten Maria out of there. So why couldn't I shake the feeling that I'd missed out on something big?

I looked over at her, sprawled across my bed.

“Maria?”

“No.” She threw an arm over her face. “I'm not awake yet.”

“You can sleep in, but I have to get ready for church.”

“Church?
Christ
.”

She rolled onto her stomach. I wished I could sleep some more, but missing church wasn't an option. It was part of the deal in my house. I grabbed a pale pink blouse from the closet and a beige pencil skirt.

“What happened last night?” Maria asked, her voice muffled against the pillow. “Tequila shots?”

“No. You had two screwdrivers but . . .”

“Two screwdrivers?” She sat up, a mess of tangled blond hair and dark roots. “I can handle two screwdrivers. Only tequila does this to me.”

“What do you remember?”

“Nada.” She shook her head. “It's like a black void.”

“You were drugged. That guy we were talking to put roofies in our drinks.” I gave her the quick version of the story as I pulled on my clothes.

“But you're okay.”

“Yeah, because I never touched the drink. I was still buzzing from my first.”

She was quiet for a while. “I only remember . . . gold chains. And a lot of rings.”

“Yeah. That's Raul.”

I heard my mom's sharp call from downstairs. “Gabriella!”

“Be right there!” I shouted back, my voice still hoarse from the club. “Gotta go. I know you feel like crap but . . . I'm glad you're okay. Lock the front door when you leave. I'll call you later.”

“Cool.” She brushed the hair out of her eyes. “And Gabby, thanks for saving my ass.”

I smiled. “Nobody messes with my sista.”

I took a couple of minutes to clean myself up in the bathroom, trying to tame my hair with some clips. But my hair had a mind of its own. As I left the bathroom, I felt curls pulling free, swirling in different directions.

Downstairs, Mom and Dad were at the kitchen table, finishing up their coffee.

“Maria's not coming down?” Mom frowned.

I'd known Maria since primary school, and Mom had never been a fan of the friendship. When I was a kid, I could never play at Maria's house—she always had to play at mine. I hadn't understood it at the time, but it probably had to do with Maria's mom's steady stream of boyfriends. Ever since
Maria had hit puberty, it was Maria herself that Mom didn't approve of. Her clothes were too little, her makeup too much, and she had—until recently—an older boyfriend. My parents had hoped we'd stop hanging out when we went to different high schools—me to St. Anthony's, and Maria to Rivera. But we were seniors now, and that hadn't happened.

“Maria's got a cold. I didn't want to rush her.”

Mom and Dad exchanged a look. I could tell they were guessing Maria was hungover. But they wouldn't actually say it.

That was the big difference between me and my parents. They were below-the-surface people and I was an in-your-face person. If I had an opinion, I shared it. If I was pissed, I said it. My parents didn't operate like that. Forget the stereotype of hot-blooded, volatile Latinos—they were the cold-water kind.

Aunt Sarita said it was the way they'd grown up. My parents were the eldest kids of Cuban immigrants with strong work ethics and rigid Catholic values. They loved rules so much they became teachers. And when they had my brother, David, they thought they'd lucked out. In their eyes, he was the perfect little rule-follower. But I knew he was just good at covering his tracks. Then I came along—loud, messy, argumentative (their words, not mine). My parents didn't know what to make of me. Still don't.

Whatever. We'd made a deal, my parents and me. They
told me exactly what was expected of me: decent grades, church, family gatherings. And I told them what I needed: a midnight curfew, access to their beat-up Honda Civic, and the freedom to choose my own career path.

That was the hardest part for them. They didn't believe my interest in radio could turn into a career. And they didn't want it to.
Radio is dead
, Mom always said.
Ten years from now, local stations probably won't even exist.

Dead or not, when I was on the air, I felt truly alive.

At eight thirty that night, I swiped my ID card and walked through the glass doors of WKTU Miami 5. Sleek and modern, the station took up half the ground floor of an office building on Miracle Mile. The foyer was splattered with hot pink Miami 5 logos and autographed shots of all the pop artists who'd visited the station over the years.

A shiver came over me. This radio station was where dreams were made—
my dreams,
anyway.

“Hey, Gabby!” Olive Mendez was in her early twenties, but she dressed like a pinup girl from the 1940s. Tonight's outfit was a floral Heidi dress, and her hair was done up with a big red bow. On Sunday nights Olive was both receptionist and assistant to DJ Caballero, screening calls and making coffee to keep him going.

“Ready for your show?” she asked with her usual bubbliness.

I nodded, despite my nerves. I was as ready as I'd ever be. And I had the feeling tonight's show would be the most important I'd ever done.

I found DJ Caballero spinning in his chair like a little kid, headphones on the desk next to the controls. He always did that when he was playing several songs in a row. That, or jumping jacks or push-ups. Anything to keep his energy up.

“Gabby, what's happenin'?”

“A lot, trust me.”

He grinned. “It's gonna be good, ain't it?”

“Let's just say you'd better help Olive with the switchboard.”

He clapped his hands together. “Snap!”

He'd taught me that—to talk confident. To take all tentative words out of my vocabulary, especially when I was on the air. He'd once told me that, in radio, it's “go big or go home.” When you're live, you can't hesitate, can't sound uncertain. If you do, the listeners will pick up on it right away.

Caballero was a scrawny black-Hispanic guy with a big voice and an even bigger personality. For a decade, he had been a mainstay of Miami radio. Both on and off the air, he was impossible not to like. His charisma wasn't an act—it was just him. And despite the fame and VIP parties and celebrity elbow-rubbing, he was the most hardworking, down-to-earth guy you could ever meet.

Caballero said into the microphone, “Don't forget, at nine
o'clock the incredible Gabby Perez is going to take over Miami 5 and literally blow your mind. . . .”

My stomach flipped.
No pressure
. But I smiled and went to the lounge to read over my notes.

BOOK: Light of Day
12.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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