Home > Ruthless Kings

Ruthless Kings
Author: Laura Lee

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

JAZZ

“Look, Jazz! Dolphins!”

I shield my eyes from the sun as I look where my sister is pointing. Sure enough, there’s a pod of five dolphins playing in the ocean. We’re at the top of the Pacific Place Ferris wheel, so we have an unobstructed view of them riding the waves.

My mom pulls Belle into her side. “What do you think their names are?”

The three of us play this game whenever we spot an animal. Belle insists that all animals have names, even strays or wild ones. My mom waits patiently as she pushes her long, dark hair aside. There’s a light breeze up this high, so she’s continually brushing it away from her face. My hair is in a messy topknot, and Belle wears hers in braids, so we don’t have that problem.

“Hmm...” Belle taps her lips with her index finger, deep in thought. “Sprinkles, Tulip, Petunia, Rainbow Rose, and...Tupac!”

“Do you even know who Tupac is?” Mom’s eyes twinkle in amusement.

“Sure I do,” Belle insists. “Kiara says back in like, the olden days, there was this rapper named Tupac Sugar. Kiara’s mommy grew up listening to his music all the time. Her mama says everyone knows the West Side is the best side!” Belle makes a peculiar hand gesture and somehow stretches that last word into three syllables.

Our mom laughs so hard, tears are welling in her eyes. “Back in the olden days, huh? How old are we talking here?”

“Oh, yeah.” Belle nods her head enthusiastically. “Like, you have to be really, really old to listen to him.”

“Hey!” I protest. “‘California Love’ is one of my go-to old-school jams. I listen to 2Pac, and I’m not old.”

Belle scrunches her little nose. “Uh...yeah, you are. You’re seventeen now. That’s way old.”

I raise my eyebrows. “If I’m so old, what does that make Mom?”

Belle glances up at her. “Really, really, really old. Like the dinosaurs.”

My mom laughs again, tugging on one of Belle’s braids. “Thanks a lot, kid. I can always depend on you to boost my self-esteem when it’s running low.”

There’s an underlying sadness beneath the sarcasm, adding a ring of truth to that statement. I stare at my mom as the wheel descends, wondering how her self-esteem could ever be lacking. Mahalia Rivera is the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met, inside and out. And she just turned thirty-five, which isn’t old at all. When the ride comes to a stop, we exit the bucket and head down the pier.

Mom loops her arm through mine. “Are you ready for your ice cream, birthday girl?”

I smile, my mom on one arm, and Belle on the other. “I’m read—”

“Eighteen-year-old female with penetrating trauma to the left lower abdomen.”

I spin around, wondering where that yelling is coming from. By the time I’ve made a full circle, my mom and sister are gone.

What the hell?

“Mom? Belle? Where’d you go?”

I shoulder my way through the thick crowd of people, looking for them.

“Mom! Belle! Where are you?”

Where could they have gone? They were just here! I tell myself not to panic, maybe Belle had to pee or something. That girl has a bad habit of waiting until she’s about to wet herself before notifying anyone she has to go. I can’t even tell you how many times we’ve had to jump off the bus early to duck into a public restroom. I keep searching, and the more time goes on, the more anxious I become. I check all the bathrooms and still no luck. I’m in tears as the sun begins to set, still unable to find them.

I run from one end of the pier to the other five times, sweating and panting as I take a moment to catch my breath.

“Mom! Please answer me!”

“Multiple contusions...Lungs are clear.”

Who is that?

As the sun dips below the horizon, I finally spot my mom at the opposite end and start sprinting back in that direction. When I reach her, Belle is nowhere to be found, and she has a bizarre look on her face.

“Mom, what’s wrong? Where’d you go? Where’s Belle?”

She smiles softly, brushing her delicate fingers against my cheek. “I love you so much, Jasmine. I’m proud of the woman you’ve become.”

I place my hand over hers. “Uh...thanks. I love you too, Mom. Where’s Belle?”

“It’s not your time yet.” She pulls her hand away. “You’re so much stronger than I ever was. You have to go back and find the truth. Show the world what monsters they truly are.”

My brows pinch together. “You’re not making sense. You’re the strongest person I know.”

My mother shakes her head, tears streaming down her face. “I’m not. I was terrified they’d take you away from me, so I kept their secrets.”

“Mom, what are you talking about? Who’s keeping secrets? What are they hiding?”

“Everything.” She kisses the tips of her fingers before holding them out in my direction. “It’s time to go back now. I love you, my sweet flower. Always.”

“Significant blood found on the scene.”

I glance around again, trying to find the owner of the disembodied voice. “Do you hear that?”

My eyes widen when my mom steps onto the metal railing, climbing up to the top bar.

What is she doing?

I start running toward her, wondering how she got so far away.

“Wait!” I say as she begins to wobble. “Mom, get down from there! You’re about to fall!”

“Unconscious...Treated for hypovolemic shock.”

She stretches her arms out wide and glances over her shoulder. “Wake up, Jasmine. It’s time to find the truth.”

"Mom, don't do it!"

By the time I get to the railing, I'm too late. She disappeared. I don't even think about it; I dive in after her, down into the water below. Darkness instantly washes over me. My limbs are too heavy to move. My chest feels like there’s an anvil sitting on top of it, crushing my lungs. Is this what drowning feels like?

Beep...

Beep...

Beep...

Where is that annoying sound coming from? Awareness is slowly seeping in, and the first thing that registers beyond the rhythmic beeping is the pain.

So. Much. Fucking. Pain.

My head is pounding. My throat protests as I attempt to swallow. Every muscle in my body aches as if I just went a few dozen rounds in an octagon.

I wince when warm fingers wrap around mine.

“She needs more pain meds,” a deep voice barks.

Is that Kingston?

Why is someone playing the drums? I think I groan. I make a concerted effort to open my eyes and find a tall blonde wearing scrubs with pictures of little books on them. She's doing something that makes the godawful noise go away. Am I in a hospital?

“Hi, Jasmine. I’m Kristi, your nurse for the day. How are you feeling?”

“Hurts.” It’s difficult to speak. My tongue is sticking to the roof of my mouth.

Kristi reaches behind me, and next thing I know, a straw is pressed against my lips. “Take small sips...this should help a bit.”

I startle when something squeezes my bicep.

She smiles softly. “Try to hold still. It’s taking your blood pressure.”

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