Hold You Against Me

By: Skye Warren

Chapter One

The moon sits high above the tree line. Somewhere beyond those woods is an electric fence. And beyond that is an entire city of people living and working and loving each other. I may as well be on the moon for how close I am to them.

A guard walks by my window at 10:05 p.m. Right on time.

I wait a few minutes until he’s out of earshot; then I flip the latch. From there it’s quick work to push up the pane with its bulletproof glass. I broke the lock a year ago. And almost every night since then I’ve sneaked down the ornate metal trellis—like a thief, stealing a moment to myself.

The grass is still damp from the rain, the ground beneath like a sponge, sucking me in. I cross the lawn, heart beating against my chest. I know exactly where the guards are on their rounds. I know exactly where the trip wires are that will set off the alarms. My father is too busy in his office to even glance outside.

The office I broke into this morning.

I breathe a sigh of relief when I reach the pool. I’m still out in the open, but the bright underwater lights make it hard to see anything on the patio. They make it hard to see me as I curve around the edge and reach the pool house.

The door opens before I touch the handle. “Clara,” comes the whisper.

I can’t help but smile as I slip into the dark. Giovanni always opens the door for me. It’s like some old-world chivalry thing, even though we’re just two kids sneaking around. At least, that’s how everyone treats me. Like a kid. But when I’m with him, I feel less like a girl, more like a woman.

He looks out the door for a beat before shutting and locking it. “Are you sure no one saw you?”

“You’re such a worrywart, Gio.” I let myself fall onto the couch, facing up.

“If your father ever found out…”

We’d be in so much trouble. My father is a member of the mob. Giovanni’s father is a foot soldier who works security on the grounds. Both our dads are seriously dangerous, not to mention a little unhinged. I can’t even think about how bad it would be if they caught us sneaking around after dark.

I push those thoughts away. “Did you bring it?”

Reluctantly, Giovanni nods. He gestures to the side table, where a half-full bottle of Jack Daniels gleams in the faint light. “Did you?”

I reach into the pockets of my jeans and pull out two cigars. I hold them up and grin. “Didn’t even break a sweat.”

He rolls his eyes, but I think he’s relieved. “This was a bad idea.”

“It was my idea,” I remind him, and his cheeks turn dark.

Of course the little homework assignment was my idea. I’m the one ridiculously sheltered up in my room with the tutors and the gilded locks. Fifteen years old and I’ve never even been out to the movies. Giovanni gets to go to regular school. He’s too young to get inducted, but I know he gets to be at some of the sit-ins.

“I just want to try them,” I say. “I’m not going to get addicted or anything.”

He snorts. “More likely you’ll get a hangover. How are you going to explain puking to your padre?”

“Honor will cover for me.” My sister always covers for me. She takes the brunt of my father’s anger. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I love the way she protects me. But one percent of the time, it feels like a straitjacket. That’s why I started coming to the pool house. And I’m glad I did. This is where I met Giovanni.

He examines the cigar, eyes narrowed.

“How do you even light it?” I ask. I’ve seen my father do it a hundred times, but I’m still not clear on how the whole thing doesn’t just catch fire. Isn’t it made from dried plants?

He puts the cigar to his lips experimentally. It looks strange seeing his full lips around something I’ve mostly seen my father use. Then he blows out a breath, miming how it would be. I imagine white smoke curling in front of his tanned skin.

“They don’t let you use them when they do?” I ask.

He gives me a dark look. I’m not supposed to talk about the side jobs he does for his father. “I mostly sit in a corner and hope no one notices me. It’s boring.”

“If it’s boring, then why won’t you talk about it?” I know it’s not a good thing to be noticed by men like our father, to be groomed by them, but sometimes that seems better than being ignored. I’m the younger one. And a girl. And there are rumors that I’m not even my father’s legitimate child. In other words, I’m lucky my sister remembers to feed me.

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