Infinity – First Chapter Preview

Infinity – First Chapter Preview

Posted by in Book Excerpts

Infinity, by Sherrilyn Kenyon, came out earlier this month and has been drawing in fans all over the place with it's sarcastic tone and fiesty hero (well, almost-hero) Nick Gautier. In case you haven't seen a copy yet, we thought we'd let you see what you're missing out on! Here's the first chapter:

CHAPTER ONE

'I am a socially awkward mandork.'

'Nicholas Ambrosius Gautier! You watch your language!'

Nick sighed at his mother’s sharp tone as he stood in their tiny kitchen looking down at the bright orange Hawaiian shirt. The color and style were bad enough. The fact it was covered in l-a-r-g-e pink, gray, and white trout (or were they salmon?) was even worse. 'Mom, I can’t wear this to school. It’s…' – he paused to think real hard of a word that wouldn’t get him grounded for life – 'hideous. If anyone sees me in this, I’ll be an outcast relegated to the loser corner of the cafeteria.'

As always, she scoffed at his protest. 'Oh, shush. There’s nothing wrong with that shirt. Wanda told me at the Goodwill store that it came in from one of those big mansions down in the Garden District. That shirt belonged to the son of a fine upstanding man and since that’s what I’m raising you to be…'

Nick ground his teeth. 'I’d rather be a delinquent no one picks on.'

She let out a deep sound of aggravation as she paused while flipping bacon. 'No one’s going to pick on you, Nicky. The school has a strict no-bullying policy.'

Yeah, right. That wasn’t worth the 'contract' paper it was written on. Especially since the bullies were illiterate idiots who couldn’t read it anyway.

Jeez. Why wouldn’t she listen to him? It wasn’t like he wasn’t the one going into the lion’s den every day and having to traverse the brutality of high school land mines. Honestly, he was sick of it and there was nothing he could do. He was a massive loser dork and no one at school ever let him forget that. Not the teachers, the principal, and especially not the other students.

Why can’t I flash forward and bypass this whole high school nightmare?

Because his mom wouldn’t let him. Only hoodlums dropped out of school and she didn’t work as hard as she did to raise up another piece of worthless scum – it was a harped-on litany permanently carved into his brain. It ranked right up there with:

'Be a good boy, Nicky. Graduate. Go to college. Get a good job. Marry a good girl. Have lots of grandbabies and never miss a holy day of obligation at church.' His mom had already road-mapped
his entire future with no diversions or pit stops allowed. But at the end of the day, he loved his mom and appreciated everything she did for him. Except for this whole 'Do what I say, Nicky. I’m not listening to you because I know better' thing she said all the time.

He wasn’t stupid and he wasn’t a troublemaker. She had no idea what he went through at school, and every time he tried to explain it, she refused to listen. It was so frustrating.

Gah, can’t I catch swine flu or something? Just for the next four years until he was able to graduate and move on to a life that didn’t include constant humiliation? After all, the swine flu had killed millions of people in 1918 and several more during outbreaks in the seventies and eighties. Was it too much to ask that another mutant strain of it incapacitate him for a few years?

Maybe a good bout of parvo…

You’re not a dog, Nick.

True, no dog would be caught dead wearing this shirt. Whizzing on it would be another matter….

Sighing in useless angst, he looked down at the crap shirt he wanted desperately to burn. Okay, fine. He’d do what he always did whenever his mom made him look like a flaming moron.

He’d own it.

I don’t want to own this. I look epically stupid.

Man up, Nick. You can take it. You’ve taken a lot worse.

Yeah, all right. Fine. Let them laugh. He couldn’t stop that anyway. If it wasn’t the shirt, they’d humiliate him over something else. His shoes. His haircut. And if all else failed, they’d insult his name. Nick the dick, or dickless Nicholas. Didn’t matter what he said or did, those who mocked would mock anything. Some people were just wired wrong and they couldn’t live unless they were making other people suffer.

His Aunt Menyara always said no one could make him feel inferior unless he allowed them to.

Problem was, he allowed it a lot more than he wanted to.

His mom set a chipped blue plate on the side of the rusted-out stove. 'Sit down, baby, and eat something. I was reading in a magazine that someone left at the club that kids score much higher on tests and do a lot better in school whenever they have breakfast.' She smiled and held the package of bacon up for him to see. 'And look. It’s not expired this time.'

He laughed at something that really wasn’t funny. One of the guys who came into his mom’s club was a local grocer who would give them meat sometimes when it expired since all the guy did was throw it out anyway.

'As long as we eat it quick, it won’t make us sick.'

Another litany he hated.

Picking up the crispy bacon, he glanced around the tiny condo they called home. It was one of four that had been carved out of an old run-down house. Made up of three small rooms – the kitchen/living room, his mom’s bedroom, and the bathroom – it wasn’t much, but it was theirs and his mom was proud of it, so he tried to be proud too.

Most days.

He winced as he looked at his corner where his mom had strung up dark blue blankets to make a room for him on his last birthday. His clothes were kept in an old laundry basket on the floor, set next to his mattress that was covered with Star Wars sheets he’d had since he was nine – another present his mom had picked up at a yard sale.

'One day, Mom, I’m going to buy us a really nice house.' With really nice stuff in it.

She smiled, but her eyes said she didn’t believe a word hespoke.'I know you will,baby.Now eat up and get to school. I don’t want you dropping out like me.' She paused as a hurt look flitted across her face. 'You can see exactly what that gets you.'

Guilt cut through him. He was the reason his mom had dropped out of school. As soon as her parents had learned she was pregnant, they’d offered her one choice.

Give up the baby or give up her nice home in Kenner, her education, and her family.

For reasons he still didn’t understand, she’d chosen him.

It was something Nick never let himself forget. But one day he was going to get all that back for her. She deserved it, and for her, he’d wear this god-awful shirt.

Even if it got him killed….

And he’d smile through the pain of it until Stone and his crew kicked his teeth in.

Trying not to think about the butt-whipping to come, Nick ate his bacon in silence. Maybe Stone wouldn’t be in school today. He could get malaria or the plague, or rabies or something.

Yeah, may the smarmy freak get a pox on his privates.

That thought actually made him smile as he shoved the grainy powdered eggs into his mouth and swallowed them. He forced himself not to shiver at the taste. But it was all they could afford.

He glanced at the clock on the wall and jerked. 'Gotta go. I’m going to be late.'

She grabbed him for a bear hug.

Nick grimaced. 'Stop sexually harassing me, Mom. I gotta go before I get another tardy.'

She popped him on the butt cheek before she released him. 'Sexually harassing you. Boy, you have no idea.' She ruffled his hair as he bent over to pick up his backpack.

Nick put both arms through the straps and hit the door running. He launched himself from the dilapidated porch and sprinted down the street, past broken-down cars and garbage cans to where the streetcar stopped.

'Please don’t be gone….'

Otherwise he’d be doomed to another 'Nick? What are we going to do with you, you white-trash dirt?' lecture from Mr. Peters. The old man hated his guts, and the fact that Nick was a scholarship kid at his snotty overprivileged school seriously ticked Peters off. He’d like nothing better than to kick him out so that Nick wouldn’t 'corrupt' the kids from the good families. Nick’s lip curled as he tried not to think about the way those decent people looked at him like he was nothing. More than half their dads were regulars at the club where his mom worked, yet they were called decent while he and his mom were considered trash.

The hypocrisy of that didn’t sit well with him. But it was what it was. He couldn’t change anyone’s mind but his own.

Nick put his head down and ran as he saw the streetcar stopped at his station.

Oh man….

Nick picked up speed and he broke out into a dead run. He hit the platform and leapt for the streetcar.

He’d caught it just in time.

Panting and sweating from the humid autumn New Orleans air, he shrugged his backpack off as he greeted the driver. 'Morning, Mr. Clemmons.'

The elderly African-American man smiled at him. He was one of Nick’s favorite drivers. 'Morning, Mr. Gautier.' He always mispronounced Nick’s last name. He said it 'Go-chay' instead of the correct 'Go-shay.' The difference being 'Gochay' traditionally had an 'h' in it after the 't' and, as Nick’s mom so often said, they were too poor for any more letters. Not to mention, one of his mom’s relatives, Fernando Upton Gautier, had founded the small town in Mississippi that shared his name and both were pronounced 'Go-shay.' 'Your mom made you late again?'

'You know it.' Nick dug his money out of his pocket and quickly paid before taking a seat. Winded and sweating, he leaned back and let out a deep breath, grateful he’d made it in time.

Unfortunately, he was still sweating when he reached school. The beauty of living in a city where even in October it could hit ninety by eight a.m. Man, he was getting tired of this late heat wave they’d been suffering.

Suck it up, Nick. You’re not late today. It’s all good.

Yeah, let the mocking commence.

He smoothed his hair down, wiped the sweat off his brow, and draped his backpack over his left shoulder.

Holding his head high in spite of the snickers and comments about his shirt and sweaty condition, he walked across the yard and through the doors like he owned them. It was the best he could do.

'Ew! Gross! He’s dripping wet. Is he too poor to own a towel? Don’t poor people ever bathe?'

'Looks like he went fishing in the Pontchartrain and came up with that hideous shirt instead of a real fish.'

'That’s ’cause he couldn’t miss it. I’ll bet it even glows in the dark.'

'I bet there’s a naked hobo somewhere wanting to know who stole his clothes while he was sleeping on a bench. Gah, how long has he owned those shoes, anyway? I think my dad wore a pair like that in the eighties.'

Nick turned a deaf ear to them and focused on the fact that they really were stupid. None of them would be here if their parents weren’t loaded. He was the scholarship kid. They probably couldn’t have even spelled their names right on the exam he’d aced to get in.

That was what mattered most. He’d much rather have brains than money.

Though right now, a rocket launcher might be nice too. He just couldn’t say that out loud without the faculty calling the cops on his having 'inappropriate' thoughts.

His bravado lasted until he reached his locker, where Stone and crew were loitering.

Great, just great. Couldn’t they pick someone else to stalk?

Stone Blakemoor was the kind of creep who gave jocks a bad name. They weren’t all like that and he knew it. Nick had several friends who were on the football team – starters, no less, not seat warmers like Stone.

Still, when you thought of an arrogant jock-rock, Stone was aptly named. It was definitely a self-fulfilling moniker his parents had labeled him with. Guess his mom had known while he was in the womb that she was going to birth a flaming moron.

Stone snorted as Nick stopped beside his group to open his locker. 'Hey, Gautier? I saw your mom naked last night – shaking her butt in my dad’s face so that he’d put a dollar in her G-string. He got a good feel of her too. Said she’s got a nice set of – '

Before he could think better of it, Nick swiped him upside the head with his backpack as hard as he could.

And then it was on like Donkey Kong.

'Fight!' someone shouted while Nick wrapped Stone in a headlock and pounded him.

A crowd gathered round, chanting, 'Fight, fight, fight.'

Somehow Stone escaped his hold and hit him so hard in the sternum it took the breath from him. Dang, he was a lot stronger than he looked. He hit like a jackhammer.

Furious, Nick started for him, only to find one of the teachers suddenly between them.

Ms. Pantall.

The sight of her petite form calmed him instantly. He wasn’t about to hit an innocent person, especially not a woman. She narrowed her eyes at him and pointed down the hall. 'To the office, Gautier. Now!'

Cursing under his breath, Nick picked his backpack up from the tiled beige floor and glared at Stone, who at least had a busted lip.

So much for not getting into trouble.

But what was he supposed to do? Let the weasel scum insult his mom?

Disgusted, he entered the office and sat in the corner chair outside the principal’s door. Why wasn’t there an undo button for life?

'Excuse me?'

Nick looked up at the softest, sweetest voice he’d ever heard. His stomach hit the ground.

Dressed all in pink, she was gorgeous, with silky brown hair and green eyes that practically glowed.

Oh. My. God.

Nick wanted to speak but all he could do was try not to drool on her.

She held her hand out to him. 'I’m Nekoda Kennedy, but most people call me Kody. I’m new to the school and kind of nervous. They told me to wait here, then there was a fight and they haven’t come back and… I’m sorry, I babble when I’m nervous.'

'Nick. Nick Gautier.' He cringed as he realized how stupid he sounded and how behind he was on her conversation.

She laughed like an angel. A beautiful, perfect…

I am so in love with you….

Get a grip, Nick. Get a grip….

'So, have you been going here long?' Kody asked.

Work, tongue. Work. He finally choked an answer out. 'Three years.'

'You like it?'

Nick’s gaze went to Stone and the others heading into the office. 'Not today, I don’t.'

She opened her mouth to speak, but Stone and crew surrounded her.

'Hey, baby.' Stone flashed her a cheesy grin. 'You new meat?'

Kody grimaced and sidestepped them. 'Get away from me, you animals. You smell.' She raked a repugnant stare over Stone’s body and curled her lip. 'Aren’t you a little old for your mom to be picking out your clothes for you? Really? Shopping at the Children’s Place at your age? I’m sure there’s some third-grader dying to know who bought the last navy I-sore shirt.'

Nick bit back a laugh. Yeah, he really, really liked her.

She went to stand by Nick and put her back against the wall so that she could keep an eye on Stone. 'Sorry we got interrupted.' Stone made a sound like he was about to vomit. 'Why are you talking to the King Loser Dork? You want to talk about ugly? Look at what he’s wearing.'

Nick cringed as Kody examined the sleeve of his shirt.

'I like a man who takes fashion chances. It’s the mark of someone who lives by his own code. A rebel.' She cast a biting glare at Stone. 'A real lone wolf is a lot sexier than a pack animal who follows orders and can’t have an opinion unless someone else gives it to him.'

'Oooo,' Stone’s friends said in unison as she got the better of him.

'Shut up!' Stone shoved at them. 'No one asked you for your opinions.'

'Nekoda?' the secretary called. 'We need to finish with your schedule.'

Kody gave Nick a last smile. 'I’m in ninth grade.'

'Me too.'

Her smile widened. 'Hope we have some classes together. Nice meeting you, Nick.' She made sure to step on Stone’s foot as she walked past him.

Stone yelped and mumbled an insult for her under his breath. Then he and his three friends sat down in the chairs that were opposite Nick’s.

Ms. Pantall walked past them to go talk to Mr. Peters.

They’re going to cream me over this….

As soon as she was gone, Stone tossed a wadded-up piece of paper at him. 'Where did you get that shirt, Gautier? Goodwill or did you find it in a Dumpster? Nah, I bet you rolled a hobo for it. I know you people couldn’t afford even something that tacky.'

Nick refused to rise to the bait this time. Besides, he could handle insults directed at him. It was the ones against his mom that elevated him to fighting mad.

And this was why most private schools had uniforms. But Stone didn’t want to wear one and since his father all but owned the school….

Nick got to be mocked for the clothes his mom thought were respectable. Why don’t you ever listen to me, Mom? Just once …

'What? No smart comeback?'

Nick flipped him off…. At the same exact moment Peters came out and saw him.

Lady Luck is definitely on vacation today.

'Gautier,' Peters growled. 'Get in here. Now!'

With a heavy sigh, Nick got up and went inside the office he knew as well as his own home. Peters stayed outside, no doubt talking to Stone while he was forced to wait. He took the chair to the right and sat there, staring at the pictures of Peters’s wife and kids. They had a nice house with a yard, and in one photo his daughters played with a white puppy.

Nick stared at them. What would it be like to live that way? He’d always wanted a dog, but since they could barely afford to feed themselves, a pooch was out of the question. Not to mention their landlord would die if they had one in their rented condo even though there wasn’t much more damage a dog could do to the run-down shack.

After a few minutes, Peters came in and went to his desk. Without a word, he picked up the phone.

Nick panicked. 'What are you doing?'

'I’m calling your mother.'

Terror ripped through him. 'Please, Mr. Peters, don’t do that. She had to work a double shift last night and tonight too. She’s only going to get about four hours of sleep today and I don’t want to worry her about nothing.' Not to mention she’d beat his butt royally for this.

He dialed the number anyway.

Nick ground his teeth as anger and fear whipped through his entire being.

'Miss Gautier?' Could there be any more loathing in his tone? And did he always have to stress the fact that his mom had never married? That always embarrassed her to death. 'I wanted to let you know that Nick is being suspended from school for the rest of the week.'

His stomach hit the floor. His mom was going to kill him when he got home. Why couldn’t Peters just shoot him and put him out of his misery?

Peters glared mercilessly at him. 'No, he was fighting again, and I’m sick of his thinking he can come in here and attack decent people anytime he feels like it for no apparent reason. He has to learn to control his temper. Honestly, I’m tempted to call the police. In my opinion, he should be sent to public school where they can handle troubled kids like him. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. He doesn’t belong here.'

Nick died a little with every word. Kids like him…

He zoned out so that he wouldn’t have to hear the rest of Peters’s tirade about how worthless he was. He already knew the truth in his heart. The last thing he needed was someone else voicing it.

After a few minutes, Peters hung up the phone.

Nick gave him a sullen stare. 'I didn’t start it.'

Peters curled his lip. 'That’s not what the others said. Who am I supposed to believe, Gautier? A hoodlum like you or four honor students?'

He was supposed to believe the one telling the truth, which happened to be the hoodlum. 'He insulted my mother.'

'That’s no excuse for violence.'

That went down his spine like a shredder. The sanctimonious pig – Nick couldn’t let that go unanswered. 'Really? Well, you know, Mr. Peters, I saw your mom naked last night and for an old broad, she has really nice – '

'How dare you!' he shouted, coming to his feet to grab Nick up by his shirt. 'You foul-mouthed little – '

'I thought you said insulting your mom was no excuse for violence.'

Peters trembled as rage mottled his skin. His grip tightened and a vein throbbed in his temple. 'My mother isn’t a Bourbon Street stripper. She’s a good, God-fearing woman.' He shoved Nick away from him. 'Get your things and get out.'

God-fearing, huh? Strange how Nick and his mom went to mass every Sunday and at least twice during the week and the only time he ever saw Peters or his mom there was on holidays.

Yeah…

Hypocrite to the core. He despised people like Peters.

Nick scooped his backpack up from the floor and left. There was a security guard waiting outside the office to escort him to his locker.

Just like a criminal.

Might as well get used to it. Some things ran in the blood. At least he’s not handcuffing me.

Yet.

Hanging his head low, he tried not to look at anyone as the other students sniggered and whispered about him.

'That’s what happens when you come from trash.'

'I hope they don’t let him back in.'

'Serves him right.'

Nick ground his teeth in anger as he neared his locker and reached for the combination lock.

Brynna Addams was pulling her books out, two doors down. Tall with dark brown hair, she was very pretty and one of the few people who hung with Stone and crew that Nick could stand.

She paused to look at them with a frown that only deepened when she saw the guard with him. 'What’s up, Nick?'

'Got suspended.' He paused before he swallowed his pride. Again. 'Could I ask a favor?'

She didn’t hesitate. 'Sure.'

'Could you get my assignments so that I don’t fall behind?'

'Absolutely. You want me to e-mail them to you?'

And I stupidly thought I couldn’t feel any worse. 'Don’t have a computer at home.'

Her cheeks darkened. 'Sorry. Um, where do you need me to take them?'

Nick was grateful she was decent – unlike the rest of the jerks she ran with. 'I’ll come by your house after school and get it.'

She wrote down her address while he pulled all of his books out. 'I’ll be home about four.'

'Thanks, Brynna. I really appreciate it.' He tucked the paper in his back pocket, then allowed the security guard to escort him off campus.

Heartsick over having to face his mother, he made his way back home to their side of the ghetto and dreaded every step that took him closer to his door.

Inside their crappy house, his mother was waiting on him with a stern frown on her face. Dressed in a threadbare pink robe, she looked about as tired and ticked off as he’d ever seen her.

He dropped his backpack to the floor. 'You should be asleep, Mom.'

Her eyes cut him to the quick and made him feel even lower than Peters had. 'How can I sleep when my boy’s been thrown out of school for fighting? You of all people know how hard it is for me to keep you there. How much money it takes. What I have to do to pay for your books and lunches. Why would you be so stupid as to throw this chance away? What were you thinking?'

Nick didn’t say anything because the truth would kill her and he didn’t want her to feel as bad as he did when there was nothing she could do about it.

I’m the man of the family. It was his job to protect her. It was all he knew.

Take care of your mom, boy, or you’ll answer to me. You lip off to her and I’ll cut out your tongue. You make her cry and I’ll kill you myself. His father was pretty worthless, but the one thing about him was that he made good on his threats. All of them. And since he’d already killed twelve people, Nick figured he wouldn’t think twice about killing him either. Especially since his father had no great love of him.

So he kept his anger locked in and refused to say anything to hurt her feelings.

Unfortunately, his mother gave him no reprieve. 'Don’t you get sullen on me, boy. I’m sick of that look on your face. Tell me why you attacked that kid. Now.'

Nick clenched his teeth tight.

'Answer me, Nick, or so help me, I’ll spank you, even at your age.'

He had to stop himself from rolling his eyes at her ludicrous threat. Even at fourteen, he was more than a head taller than his tiny mother and he had a good forty pounds on her. 'He made fun of me.'

'And for that you’d jeopardize your entire future? What were you thinking? He laughed at you. So what? Believe me, that’s not the worst thing that will ever happen to you. You have to grow up, Nicky, and stop acting like a baby. Just because someone mocks you is no reason to fight. Now is it?'

No. He swallowed attacks against him all the time. What he wouldn’t suffer were attacks against his mom. And he shouldn’t have to. 'I’m sorry.'

She held her hand up. 'Don’t even go there. You’re not sorry. I can see it in your eyes. I am so disappointed in you. I thought I’d taught you better, but apparently you’re determined to grow up into a no-account criminal just like your daddy, in spite of everything I do to keep you straight. Now go to your room until I calm down. You can stay there for the rest of the day.'

'I’m supposed to work this afternoon. Ms. Liza needs me to help move her stock around in the storeroom.'

She growled. 'Fine. You can go, but then it’s straight home. You hear me? I don’t want you wasting time with any of those hoodlums you call friends.'

'Yes, ma’am.' Nick headed to his 'room' and pulled the blankets closed. Sick and tired of it all, he sat down on the old, lumpy mattress and leaned his head back against the wall where he saw the pieces of the ceiling that were discolored and peeling up.

And then he heard it….

The sound of his mother’s tears coming through the wall of her bedroom. God, how he hated that sound.

'I’m sorry, Mom,' he whispered, wishing he’d strangled Stone where the creep stood.

One day… one day he was going to get out of this hellhole. Even if he had to kill someone to do it.

It was nine o’clock when Nick left Liza’s store. He’d already picked up his assignments from Brynna at her huge mansion of a house on his way into work. Then he’d put in five hours so that he could save money for his 'college fund.' ’Course at the rate it was accumulating, he’d be fifty before he could go. But something was better than nothing. Liza locked the door to her shop while he stood behind her to
shield her from anyone who might be watching them.

'Good night, Nicky. Thanks for all your help.'

'Night, Liza.' He waited until she was safely in her car and on her way home before he headed down Royal Street toward the Square. The closest streetcar stop was over behind Jackson Brewery. But as he neared the Square, he wanted to see his mom and apologize for getting suspended.

She told you to go straight home….

Yeah, but he’d made her cry and he hated whenever he did that. Besides, the condo was really lonely when he was there alone at night. They didn’t have TV or anything else to do.

And he’d already read Hammer’s Slammers until he could quote it.

Maybe if he apologized, she’d let him hang out at the club for the night.

So instead of turning right, he made a left and headed for her club on Bourbon Street. The faint sounds of jazz and zydeco music coming out of stores and restaurants soothed him. Closing his eyes as he walked, he inhaled the sweet smell of cinnamon and gumbo as he passed the Cafe Pontalba. His stomach rumbled. Since he hadn’t been at school, his lunch had consisted of more powdered eggs and bacon, and he had yet to eat dinner… which would be those nasty eggs again.

Not wanting to think about that, he walked down the narrow alley to the back door of the club and knocked. John Chartier, one of the huge burly bouncers who watched out for the dancers, opened it with a fierce frown – until he saw Nick. A wide smile spread over his face. 'Hey, buddy. You
here to see your mom?'

'Yeah. Is she on stage yet?'

'Nah, she’s still got a few minutes.' He stood back so that Nick could walk down the dark back hallway to the green room.

He paused at the door to the room where the dancers dressed and rested between performances, and knocked.

Tiffany answered. Absolutely stunning, she was tall and blond… and barely dressed in a G-string and lacy top.

Even though he’d been raised around women dressed like that and was used to it, his face flamed bright red as he kept his gaze on the floor. It was like seeing his sister naked.

Tiffany laughed, cupping his chin in her hand. 'Cherise? It’s your Nicky.' She squeezed his chin affectionately. 'You’re so sweet the way you won’t look at us. I knew it was you when you knocked. No one else is so nice. All I can say is your mama is raising you right.'

Nick mumbled a thank-you as he stepped past her and made his way to his mom’s dressing station. He kept his gaze down until he was sure his mom was covered by her pink bathrobe.

But when he caught her furious glare in the chipped mirror where she was putting on her makeup, his stomach hit the floor. There was no forgiveness in that face tonight. 'I thought I told you to go straight home.'

'I wanted to say I was sorry again.'

She put down her mascara wand. 'No, you didn’t. You wanted to try and make me tell you that you didn’t have to stay on restriction. I won’t have it, Nicholas Ambrosius Gautier. And your paltry apology doesn’t change the fact that you knew better. You have to learn to think before you act. That temper of yours is going to get you into serious trouble one day. Just like it did your father. Now go home and contemplate what you did and how wrong it was.'

'But Mom – '

'Don’t ‘but Mom’ me. Go!'

'Cherise!' her handler shouted, letting her know it was time to go on stage. She stood up. 'I mean it, Nick. Go home.'

Nick turned around and left the club, feeling even worse than he had when he’d left Liza’s. Why wouldn’t his mom believe in him?

Why couldn’t she see that he wasn’t trying to play her?

Whatever… He was tired of trying to convince the world, and especially his mom, that he wasn’t worthless.

On the street, he headed down Bourbon toward Canal, where he could pick up a closer streetcar. He hated when his mom treated him like a criminal. He was not his father. He would never be like that man.

Fine, I’ll never protect your honor again. Let them insult and mock you. See if I care. Why should he bother when doing the right thing made her so mad at him?

Angry, hurt, and disgusted, he heard someone call his name.

Pausing, he saw Tyree, Alan, and Mike across the street, hanging outside a tourist bead and mask store. They waved him over.

Nick crossed the street to tap his fist against theirs. 'What’s up?'

Tyree leaned his head back in silent salute to him. 'Hanging. What you doing?'

'Heading home.'

Tyree slapped at the collar of Nick’s orange shirt. 'Boy, what you got on? That shit’s hideous.'

Nick slapped his hand away. 'Clothes. What’s that crap you got on and what truck did it fall off of?'

Tyree snorted and preened. 'These my Romeo threads. They make all the ladies call me tasty.'

Nick scoffed. 'Tasty-crazy. Them ain’t no Romeo duds. Those fashions by Geek Street.'

They all laughed.

Mike sobered. 'Look, we got a thing tonight and we could use a fourth. You want in? It should be worth a couple hundred dollars to you.'

Nick’s eyes widened at the sum. That was a lot of money. Tyree, Mike, and Alan were hustlers. Though his mom would have a stroke if she ever found out, he’d been known to help them a time or two when they’d scammed locals and tourists. 'Pool, poker, or craps?'

Alan and Tyree exchanged an amused look. 'This is more a job of watchdog. At least for you. We got the big boss from Storyville who’s paying us to shake down some deadbeats. It’ll only take a couple of minutes.'

Nick screwed his face up. 'I don’t know about that.'

Tyree tsked. 'C’mon, Nick. We don’t have much time before we have to be there and we really need someone to watch the street. Five minutes and you’ll make more money than working a month for that old lady.'

Nick looked back toward his mom’s club. Normally, he’d have told them to forget it, but right now…

If everyone’s going to call me a worthless delinquent, I might as well be one.

’Cause living right sure wasn’t paying off for him. 'You sure it’s five minutes?'

Tyree nodded. 'Absolutely. In and out and we’re done.'

Then he could be home and his mom wouldn’t be the wiser. For once, he enjoyed the thought of sticking it to her, even though she would never know about it. 'All right. I’m in.'

'Good man.'

Nick looked at Alan, who was nineteen. 'Can you guys give me a ride home after?'

'For you, boy? Anything.'

Nodding, Nick followed them over to a seedy part of North Rampart. Tyree put him on the street, blocking an alley.

'You stay right here and watch for the Five-O. Let us know if you see anyone.'

Nick inclined his head to him.

They vanished into the shadows while he stood there, waiting. After a few minutes, an old couple walked past him on the sidewalk. By their dress and manners, he could tell they were tourists just taking a late stroll off the beaten path.

'Hi there,' the woman said to him, smiling.

'Hi.' Nick returned the expression. But his smile died an instant later when Alan leapt out of the shadows to grab the woman while Tyree knocked the man into a wall.

Nick was stunned. 'What are you doing?'

'Shut up!' Alan snarled, pulling out a gun. 'All right, grandpa. Give us your money or the old ho gets it right between her eyes.'

Nick felt the color drain from his face. This couldn’t be happening. They were mugging two tourists?

And I’m helping….

For a full minute he couldn’t breathe as he watched the woman cry and the man beg them not to hurt her.

Before he even realized what he was doing, he grabbed Alan’s hand that held the gun and knocked it away. 'Run!' he shouted at the couple.

They did.

Tyree started after them, but Nick tackled him to the ground.

Alan caught him by the collar of his shirt and jerked him back. 'Man, what are you doing?'

Nick shoved him. 'I can’t let you mug someone. That wasn’t the deal.'

'You stupid…' Alan hit him in the face with the gun.

Pain exploded in Nick’s skull as he tasted blood.

'You’re going to pay for that, Gautier.'

The three of them descended on him so fast and furious that he couldn’t even see to fight back. One minute he was standing and the next he was on the ground with his arms wrapped around his head to protect it from the gun Alan was beating him with. They stomped and beat on him until he lost all feeling in his legs and one arm.

Alan stepped back and angled the gun on him. 'Say your prayers, Gautier. You’re about to become a statistic.'

Infinity, by Sherrilyn Kenyon is out now!


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