Sweet Ruin

By: Kresley Cole

ONE

Houston County, Texas

FOURTEEN YEARS AGO

Jo woke to the taste of copper.

She smacked her lips, moving her tongue. Something’s in my mouth?

Her eyes flashed open. She bolted upright, and spat two pieces of crumpled metal. What the hell are those?

Clutching her aching head, she gazed around, wrinkling her nose at the antiseptic smell. Where am I? Her vision was blurry, the light dim. She thought the room was tiled.

Shit, was she in a hospital? No good. That’d mean she and Thaddie were back in the foster system and off the streets. Which meant she’d be breaking him out yet again.

Where was he? Why couldn’t she remember what happened?

Think, Jo. THINK! What’s the last thing you remember?

Slowly images of the day began to surface. . . .



It’s getting too hot to stay here.

Closing in on the library, Jo scanned the streets for the gang lord’s Monte Carlo. She thought she heard its newly replaced engine rumbling a couple of blocks over.

The streets of this hood were a maze, the Monte Carlo a dragon. She was a plucky superhero, carrying her trusty sidekick on her back.

But last night hadn’t been a game.

She craned her head around to ask Thaddie, “What do you think?” His little body was secured in the Thadpack—the stolen backpack she’d modified, cutting out holes for his legs. “We lost ’em, didn’t we?”

“Loss ’em!” He waved his single toy, his Spider-Man doll, to celebrate.

She and Thaddie needed to get scarce, maybe head to Florida, making a new start in Key West.

She eyed their surroundings one last time, then slipped through the library’s back door, left open for her by Mrs. Brayden, part-time librarian/full-time busybody, a.k.a. MizB.

The woman was in the lounge, already setting up the high chair. Her picnic basket was full.

Do I smell fried chicken?

“Hope you two are hungry.” Her dark-brown shoulder-length hair had a touch of gray. Her eyes were light brown behind her boxy glasses. As usual, she wore some lame pantsuit.

Don’t look too eager for chicken. “Whatever.” Jo freed Thaddie from the pack, then took a seat, adjusting him in her lap. “Guess we could eat.” She propped her combat boots on the table.

MizB sighed at Jo’s outfit: ratty jeans, a stained T-shirt, and a black hoodie. The woman had offered to do laundry for them, as if Jo and Thaddie had a wardrobe of other stuff to change into while they waited.

“We need to talk, Jo.” She sat, but didn’t unload the basket.

“Uh-oh, Thaddie, it looks like we’re about to get a lecture.” Jo winked at him. “What do we say to MizB when she lectures us?”

He grinned at the woman, his adorable face dimpling, then yelled, “Fuggoff fuggoff fuggoff!”

Jo laughed, but MizB was unamused. “Excellent, Josephine. Now he has a potty mouth because of you.”

“He hasn’t reached his full potential of potty. Oh, but he will. Because my baby bro is brilliant!” Two and a half years old, and he was a boy genius.

At least, that’s how old she thought he was. Thirty months ago, she’d been found wandering the outskirts of Houston, wearing black robes and speaking “gibberish.” She’d clutched Thaddie in her arms, hissing at anyone who tried to take him from her. Before that day, she had no memories.

The docs had put him as a newborn and her age at eight. They’d figured head trauma had caused her memory loss.

No parents had come to claim them. Fuckers.

Sensing the drop in her mood, Thaddie made his Spidey doll kiss Jo’s cheek. “Mwah!” He smiled again. The kid loved showing off his new teeth.

Whereas Jo would just as soon sneer at someone, he babbled greetings to everyone, inviting them to play with his toy. If she’d ever owned a toy of her own, she never would’ve shared it with people who weren’t Thaddie.

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