AGAINST THE WALL
Releasing on February 2, 2016
Fans of Katie McGarry, Simone Elkeles, and Tammara Webber will love Against the Wall! As teenagers, they fell for each other despite the odds. But now that Eric and Meghan are all grown up, they’re reunited by fierce passion and dangerous secrets.
Eric Hernandez is the bad boy of every schoolgirl’s fantasies—and every mother’s nightmares. But after serving time for manslaughter, he’s ready to turn his life around. He just needs a chance to prove himself as a professional tattoo artist. The one thing that keeps him going is the memory of the innocent beauty he loved and left behind.
Meghan Young’s world isn’t as perfect as it looks. The preacher’s daughter is living a lie, especially now that Eric is back. Tougher, harder, and sexier than ever, he might be the only person she can trust. But there’s no telling what he’ll do to protect her if he learns the truth, and that’s a risk Meghan won’t let him take. And yet, back in the arms of the troubled boy with the artist’s soul, Meghan can’t help surrendering to the man he’s become.
I didn’t want a party.
I’ve been out three months, living in the court-mandated halfway house in Chino Hills. I did thirty months of hard time and I’ll be on parole for another thirteen—if I stay out of trouble.
Easier said than done.
Today is my first day back in Chula Vista, the border town where I was born. It’s the only place I’ve ever called home. The only place I’ve ever been, besides Mexico. And prison. I’m still down for my barrio, Castle Park. I can hold my head high on these streets. I’ll probably die on these streets.
I told April not to make a big deal out of my homecoming, but I can see the decorations as soon as Jenny opens the door. Pink fucking balloons, like my prison release is a baby shower. I gave birth to a violent criminal record. Congrats!
Jenny is my niece, the daughter of my dead brother, Raul. She’s eight years old and cute as hell. I’ve only seen her a few times since I got locked up. April brought her to visit on my twenty-third birthday, about nine months ago. My eyes feel funny when I look at her.
She doesn’t hug me or say a word. She just smiles shyly, revealing a gummy gap between her front teeth. It reminds me of Chucho, one of my cellmates. He had missing teeth and a goofy smile that lit up his tattooed face.
“I’m looking for a little girl named Jenny,” I say. “She’s about this tall.” I hold my palm at my side, indicating a shorter kid.
“I’m Jenny,” she says, giggling.
“You can’t be! You’re too big.”
She steps aside to let me in. I set my backpack by the door. I took the bus from Chino Hills to the Chula Vista transit station and walked the last six blocks to the house. April is standing a few feet away next to her husband. She’s already crying.
How am I supposed to hold it together when she’s falling apart? I clear my throat and focus on Jenny again. She’s wearing a green dress. Her dark, shiny hair has pink ribbons in it. She’s the spitting image of her mother. Pretty and sweet, untainted by my brother’s bad blood.
I crouch down and remove a hastily wrapped present from my backpack. “I’m sorry I missed your birthday.”
Birthdays, plural. I’d missed three of them.
It’s just one of those balero cup toys, the kind with the ball on a string, but Jenny acts like it’s the best gift ever. Her delighted expression makes my eyes burn again. I have to take a deep breath to recover.
“What do you say?” April prompts.
“Thank you,” Jenny says, a dimple appearing in her cheek.
I straighten to greet April next. Her face is rounder, her body lush in a new way. She’s wearing a flowery top that clings to her breasts but hangs like a drape over her middle. When she steps forward to embrace me, her stomach bumps into mine.
“You’ve gained some weight,” I say in Spanish, a kinder language for pointing out such things.
She releases me with a laugh, wiping the tears from her eyes. Then she rests a hand on the gentle slope of her belly. She’s always been beautiful. Her pregnancy accentuates her best qualities, giving her softer features and fuller breasts.
Noah steps forward and slides his arm around her. His big hand covers hers, protective. He’s noticed my appraisal of his wife’s new curves, but he’s too pleased with the proof of his virility to glare at me.
He’s okay, for a cop.
Officer Young spoke on my behalf at the sentencing hearing. If he hadn’t, the judge might have slapped me with ten years, the maximum for manslaughter. Instead I got the minimum, minus six months.
I’m lucky to be out. Lucky to be alive.
“Looks like you’ve been busy,” I say to Noah. I shake his hand and pat him on the back, as if he’s accomplished this feat on his own. He laughs and April rolls her eyes at us. I’m grinning from ear to ear, happy for them both.
“We’re due in August,” April says.
“Boy or a girl?”
“We don’t know. We want it to be a surprise.”
A surprise. Like this party. In addition to pink balloons, the living room is decorated with pale blue streamers and a handmade sign that says WELCOME HOME, ERIC. But this isn’t my home, and it never will be. It’s Noah’s home, and April’s and Jenny’s.
And . . . Meghan’s.
I realize that I’m searching the background for her. My smile slips and my chest tightens with unease.
Meghan won’t be happy to see me. The last time I saw her, when she’d visited the jail where I was processed, I said a lot of nasty things to her. I said she was an easy lay, that I’d had better, that I didn’t care about her.
Noah doesn’t seem mad at me for disrespecting his little sister, so I’m assuming she didn’t share the details of our breakup. Or maybe he’s so high on baby-making with his hot wife that he can’t be brought down. They look great together, like a perfect family from a TV show. Except that April and Jenny are of Mexican heritage, same as me.
I feel a mild sort of resentment over the situation: Tall, handsome white guy—a gang unit cop, no less—swoops in and snaps up one of the nicest, most beautiful girls from the hood. Then I remember that I fucked his sister. And probably broke her heart, if only for a few brief weeks during an already tumultuous time.
“Meghan’s not here yet,” April says, as if she can read my thoughts.
I shrug it off. “I said I didn’t want a party.”
“This isn’t a party. It’s just us.”
Jill Sorenson is the RITA-nominated author of more than a dozen romantic-suspense novels. She has a degree in literature and writing from California State University. Her books have been selected as Red-Hot Reads by Cosmopolitan magazine, and have received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal. Sorenson currently lives in the San Diego area with her family. She’s a soccer mom who loves nature, coffee, reading, Twitter, and reality TV.