Enshrine Read online

  This book is dedicated to my father, grandmother,

  cousins, and countless other family members and

  friends who have looked into the eyes of

  death with strength and dignity.

  “Your illness does not define you,

  your grace and courage do.” ~Unknown


  Happy Fuckin’ New Year’s


  4 Years Earlier

  As I roll over and run my hands across the sheets, I realize she’s gone. After a night of alcohol-induced sex, she left without a word.

  The smell of her still lingers on the pillow as I pull it over my face and block the sunlight. I thought she was different. There was an unmistakable connection between us that I’d never felt before.

  This was the first New Year’s Eve I was hammered in longer than I could remember. I’ve never allowed myself to lose control. Too much is on my shoulders for me to let my guard down and get drunk. But I did it. One drink turned into more, and we wound up at my place. The drinks flowed, the clothes came off, and the passion was off the charts. I’m not a fool. I didn’t fall in love with her, but I felt something for the first time since I’d lost Maggie, my fiancée.

  Inhaling her scent, I groan because I have to spend the day with my family, and the fact that I have a hangover doesn’t make the experience any more pleasurable.

  My phone starts to vibrate, dancing across my nightstand wildly. Each clatter against the wood feels like someone is shoving spikes into my brain. Ignoring it, I kick off the blankets and throw the pillow across the room before I sit up. I blink away the sleep and rub my eyes before grabbing my phone and seeing the call was from my mother.

  As I stand and am about to head toward the bathroom, my phone rings again. “Hey,” I say after hitting answer. The one thing I know about Franci is that she won’t stop calling until I answer.

  “When’s my baby boy going to be here?” she asks without even greeting me properly.

  “Mom, give me a bit. I just woke up.” I stretch, my body shaking when I yawn.

  “Tough night?” She laughs, covering up the phone to yell at my father.

  “You can say that.”

  “Baby, you need to unwind sometimes. You deserve a reckless night out.”

  “My life is too dangerous to get piss-ass drunk, Mom.”

  “You work too hard. So come up here and relax. When will you be here?” she asks again because it’s the only thing she cares about.

  “Do you care if I skip this year?” I ask and wince, readying myself for her response.

  “Get your ass up here and stop with the bullshit. New Year’s is part of our family tradition. I already have to deal with Lee showing up three hours late for some nonsense reason. You cannot miss it. Take some aspirin, drink some water, and get in the fuckin’ car.”

  I stalk toward the bathroom to find the aspirin I so badly need, especially if I’m going to deal with them today. “Fine. I’ll leave in an hour.”

  “Thirty,” she replies and hangs up.

  Families are a pain in the ass, but I have the best one in the world. I have a little brother and two sisters, and they’ve kept me on my toes for years. I miss them, living hours away from home. But in the end, it is better for them.

  My work isn’t safe. I’m always careful to keep work and family separate. No way in hell would I let them get tied up in my bullshit. People think I have everyone cowering at my feet, but even I have enemies. Being on top makes me a target, along with anyone else tied to me.

  I don’t waste any more time thinking about my family, job, or the girl who left without a word this morning. I have to get out of here before Franci starts to blow up my phone.

  * * *

  Walking into my parents’ house an hour late doesn’t earn me any accolades. “Oh, look who decided to grace us with his presence,” Gabby, my little sister, says with so much sarcasm I instantly feel guilty.

  Mostly because I haven’t been around for much of her life and we don’t have a close relationship. I love her dearly, but she doesn’t know enough about me, like most brothers and sisters often do. I’m much closer—in age and emotionally—to my sister, Angelique, who we call Lee.

  “Ah, the big guy is here.” Lucca, my little brother, climbs off the couch with a smug grin.

  Lucca and I are tighter. He was older by the time I left home. Lucca was planned, and Gabby came about from a “night of passion,” my parents’ words not mine.

  “You just saw me at Christmas. Don’t act like I’m never around.” I shrug off my coat and hang it on the hook near the door.

  My mother’s in the kitchen, banging pots and pans, probably making more of a mess than a meal. “You’re late!”

  I roll my eyes and stalk into the living room, ready to hear bullshit for the next twelve hours until I drive back into the city. “Sorry, Mom,” I yell back, walking past the kitchen and heading toward the chair next to the fireplace. “Good to see you, Dad.” I slap him on the shoulder and disrupt his thought process. “Mom has you working on another project?”

  He drops the instruction sheet to the floor. “This damn lamp is like a jigsaw puzzle. Why can’t she buy shit that’s already put together like normal people?”

  I laugh and slink down to the floor next to him. “I’ll help.”

  He smiles and his shoulders relax. His hair looks uncombed, but I know it’s probably from the five hundred times he’s yanked on it out of frustration. He’s one of the smartest people I know, but putting together furniture has never been his forte. “Thanks.”

  “How’s life in the big city?” Gabby asks, looking up from her phone. “I’m going to come visit you for spring break.”

  My jaw ticks because the thought of my sister in the city and near my life can never happen. “Gab, we’ve gone over this before. You can’t come visit me.”

  “Why?” she sneers, dropping her phone on the cushion next to her and crossing her arms.

  My father glances at me with a grimace.

  “Because I said so. What do you think, Dad?” I throw it on his shoulders to back me up because I know he will.

  We’ve gone round and round with her about this. Ever since she turned sixteen, she’s felt that she’s a ”big” enough girl to handle New York City and my friends. But no matter how old she is, she’ll never be a part of my world. To her, I’m her big brother, bigger than life. But to others, I’m just a criminal with one of the nastiest reputations in town.

  “You’re not going, Gab,” Dad tells her sternly. “Never.”

  “Soon, I’ll be old enough that neither of you can stop me.”

  I fuckin’ hate teenage girls. They’re the worst type of human beings on the planet. It’s easier to reason with a stick of butter than a hormonal female teen. “Case closed, Gabby,” I say and stare at the directions because I can’t look her in the eye.

  “What do you do that’s so—” she waves her hands in the air and rolls her eyes “—dangerous that I can’t be around?”

  My little sister doesn’t need to know anything about my life. Besides being bitchy, she’s a talker. The thing I value most is my privacy. “You don’t need to know.”

  “Dad,” Gabby whines and climbs off the couch like she’s physically in pain. “It’s so unfair.”

  “It’s on a need-to-know basis,” I tell her and pick up the half-constructed lamp to try to figure out which step he left off on.

  “And you don’t need to know,” Lucca tells her with laughter as he walks past her and smacks her on the back of the head. She screeches, running after him as he races up the stairs.

  My father sighs and leans back against the couch. “See all the fun you miss around here?”

  I keep my head down, snapping in the