This is it, folks. This is the end of the Valentine series. Book 5 will be out within the next week or so, but in the meantime, here’s a preview from the second chapter. Enjoy!
The Morning After
Val wandered into the bathroom and closed the door, and stood restlessly in front of the sink. She raised her right hand and used the heel of her palm to rub the sleep away from her eyes. It was the morning after the meeting she had asked Kelly to arrange behind her office. The morning after she and her family and friends had reached a unanimous decision: John Rafferty needed to die.
She stared at her reflection in the mirror. Her blond roots were making their presence known within the tufts of pink dye in her hair. Dark circles were developing under her eyes. She sighed, and twisted the hot water knob on the faucet. It always took the hot water a few seconds to become hot. Val leaned forward slightly, and pulled the collar of her t-shirt down, just far enough to see the scar below her shoulder. The scar from her bullet wound…
There was a sudden knock at the bathroom door. “Val? Are you in there?”
Val looked over at the door and gave it half of a smile. “Hey, Ronnie,” she said. “Do you need to come in?”
“Kinda,” Veronica said, through the door.
Val walked over to the door and opened it, and a grateful Veronica stepped inside. “Sorry,” she said. “I really need to go.”
“Go for it,” Val said. She closed the door and returned to the sink. The water was hot now. She pulled the lever for the stopper, and reached for her wash cloth on the nearby towel rack. As she wet her face, and lathered it with soap, she asked, “Did you sleep well?”
“Not really,” Veronica replied. She stood up, and flushed the toilet. “I kept thinking about our meeting yesterday. I don’t think everyone there fully comprehended what we decided to do.”
Val used her wash cloth to clean her face. “Why do you say that?” she asked.
“Because the concept of it is absolutely crazy,” Veronica said. She watched Val wring out her wash cloth, then drain the water from the sink. Val stepped aside, and Veronica washed her hands. They reached for their towels simultaneously.
“It’s crazy to anyone who isn’t involved,” Val said. “Or, to anyone who isn’t part of the Syndicate. But for us, this is normal. Would you rather we let Rafferty live?”
Veronica sighed. “No,” she said.
“The only other option, is to let him kill me,” Val said. “His beef is with me, more than any of you.”
“I don’t want that either!” Veronica said. “It’s just that, we’re talking about killing someone! That’s not normal.”
“It’s normal for this family,” Val said.
They walked out of the bathroom, and down the hall to the living room. Victoria and Melinda were already awake, and in front of the TV, watching Cartoon Network and eating bowls of cereal. They looked back at Val and Veronica and smiled.
“Good morning,” Victoria said, through her mouth full of Cheerios. “Uncle Vincent already left for work.”
“Okay,” Val said.
There was a knock at the door, and Veronica was the first to make a move to answer it. When she opened it, she was surprised to see Jo on the other side. “Hey, Jo,” she said, as Jo entered the apartment.
“Morning, pretty,” Jo said. She chuckled when Veronica blushed. “Hey, ladies. I brought donuts, but I see you’re already eating cereal.”
“We can eat both!” Melinda exclaimed.
“I haven’t had anything yet,” Val said, eyeing the Dunkin Donuts shopping bag in Jo’s hand. “Thanks, Jo.”
“No problem,” Jo said. She set the bag upon the counter.
“Hey, I know what I want to do this summer,” Melinda said. “I heard someone at school talking about the Pride Parade in June. I wanna go!”
Veronica, Val and Jo all turned to her in surprise. “The Pride Parade?” Val asked.
Melinda set her bowl on the coffee table and nodded enthusiastically. “Yes!” she said. “Can we go this year?”
“Uh, sweetie, do you know what the Pride Parade is for?” Jo asked.
“Sure,” Melinda said. “It’s about celebrating who you are, and being proud of yourself and your friends.”
Jo turned to Val and Victoria and smiled. “She’s so innocent, it’s too adorable,” she said. She turned back to Melinda, and said, “Well, you’re not wrong. Pride celebrates the LGBTQ community. It reminds people to be tolerant and open-minded, and embrace everyone’s differences. It helps the community be more aware of people like me.”
Melinda blinked at her in surprise. “What, do you mean, like, other Marines?”
Jo raised her eyebrows. “You’re really adorable, do you know that?”
Melinda beamed, and picked up her bowl of cereal. “Thank you.” Victoria leaned over and whispered something into Melinda’s ear.
Jo smiled at Val and Veronica. “This year, she should lead the Pride Parade.”