#SaintOnSaturday – Chapter 4!

Welcome to Chapter Four of My Fallen Saint as I countdown to the September 15 release day!

If you’re coming in late, you can link through all the #SaintOnSaturday posts so far here!

Also, be sure to PRE-ORDER your copy since that is the ONLY way to get the exclusive before-the-story story that I’ll be distributing on September 22 only to those who have pre-ordered and submitted proof of preorder. If you have a Google account, you can submit through this form.  If you don’t have access to a Google account, submit HERE.

This content won’t ever be offered again! So don’t miss out!

Coming 9.15.20:
• Amazon – https://jklinks.co/mfs_amz_aff
• AppleBooks – https://jklinks.co/mfs_apb_aff
• Nook – https://jklinks.co/mfs_nook
• Kobo – https://jklinks.co/mfs_kobo
• GPlay – https://jklinks.co/mfs_gplay

 

It’s Uncle Peter’s murder that’s dragged me back to Laguna Cortez. At the time, the police believed the perp was a guy named Ricky Mercado, who’d lost his shit after Peter called him out for dealing drugs at one of the apartment complexes Peter owned.

They believed it because Ricky Mercado turned himself in the day after the murder, and the evidence backed him up. He ended up with a sentence of twenty-five to life, lasted about a decade in prison, then was killed in a prison fight last month. 

Just shy of a week ago, I learned from Chief Randall that new evidence shows that Mercado couldn’t have committed the crime. Turns out he was in Long Beach at the time of the murder—caught on camera beating the shit out of a clerk at a local convenience store.

So who did kill my uncle? And why the hell did Mercado confess to a crime he didn’t commit?

I don’t know. But I came back to find out.

My cell phone rings, and I return from the cliff’s edge to Shelby. I see that the call’s from my editor, so I bend over and grab the phone off the passenger seat. “Hey, Roger. Checking up on me?”

“Checking in on you. How’re you doing, kid?”

With anyone else, the nickname would grate on me, but Roger’s been my mentor since the first day I arrived at The Spall Monthly as an intern after quitting my job with the Irvine Police Department to start a new life in New York as an investigative reporter. 

Now I’ve got a Masters in Journalism and a job as a staff writer, but he’s still my mentor and friend. And a little bit of a father, too.

“It’s weird being back,” I confess, because I know he’s worried about me. He doesn’t know my entire story, but he knows how my family’s ghosts haunt this town. And he knows I’d left Laguna Cortez in my rearview mirror about five minutes after I got my GED during the first semester of what would have been my senior year.

I’d packed five boxes into Shelby, gotten an apartment in Irvine, then worked as a barista until I could start college at UCI in January. I was still seventeen, but Chief Randall and Amy signed off as my court-appointed guardians. 

I haven’t been back to Laguna Cortez since. I’m not sure I’d be back now if Roger hadn’t pushed me.

“Deep breaths,” he says. “I’ve watched you for three years and there’s nothing you can’t handle.”

I cringe. I hate seeming weak, and I’m convinced that’s how he saw my reluctance to return. “I’ve got this,” I say firmly. “But I may not turn it into a story.” 

I pace in front of Shelby, as if moving will ward off the creeping anxiety that’s nipping at my heels. “I want to know what really happened to my uncle. But that doesn’t mean I want Spall publishing it. It’s still my life. My family. You get that, right?”

I know he does. But I can’t seem to pass up any opportunity to remind him.

“I want you to have closure, Ellie. If that means writing a story, then write it. If it means finding the truth and locking it away, then that’s your choice. I won’t push you. Not for this story. But you damn well better turn the profile piece in on time.”

Now I laugh, because Roger truly is a clever bastard. “I’m on my way to the interview right now,” I assure him. 

My last argument against coming back was that I had work to do in New York. So my devious editor assigned me to write a profile of the Devlin Saint Foundation, focusing on the success it’s had in rescuing and rehabilitating women and children caught up in a Nevada-based human trafficking ring. To that end, he lined up an interview with Devlin Saint—the Devlin Saint—for this afternoon.

It’s not an investigative piece, but it’s still important. Despite being relatively new, the Devlin Saint Foundation has become one of the world’s foremost philanthropic organizations, with fingers in educational projects, criminal rehabilitation efforts, global development, anti-hunger, the arts, and so much more. 

Its success, of course, is attributed to Saint himself, the mysterious, young, and extremely private founder of the organization. A man who started the DSF only five years ago and grew it into a world-renowned philanthropic enterprise. Whose reputation as a brilliant and generous global philanthropist is counterbalanced by his notoriety for being an arrogant and enigmatic loner whose business acumen and exceptional looks have paved the way to his foundation’s success where his chilly personality could not. 

I hesitated when Roger assigned the story, but ultimately agreed. After all, Saint is so enigmatic and well-known that the whole country will read the story, and that can only be good for my career. 

Now, I wrap up the call with Roger, ostensibly because I need to get moving, but really because as soon as my mind turned to the foundation, it also turned to Alex. With a sigh, I take one more look at the town below. 

From up here, it looks small and fragile. Like an architectural model. But I know the truth. Beneath its bright sunshine and sparkling waters, Laguna Cortez is nothing but death and loss, sharp edges and pain. 

* * *

Despite having only two lanes and soft shoulders, Sunset Canyon Road is the main east-west thoroughfare for this Orange County town. With its gentle curves, it’s also the easiest route down the hill. 

But I don’t need easy. Not now. Not even remotely.

So instead of meandering like someone’s grandma down the main road, I hook the first left onto a tiny canyon road with no shoulders, serious drop-offs, and hairpin curves from hell.

I fly down the road, losing my cap in the process so that my hair whips around, stinging my cheeks. I ignore the discomfort. My attention is entirely on the road, on navigating this path. Right now, all I need is the wind in my face, the roar of Shelby’s engine, and the euphoria of knowing that for this moment at least, I’m in total and complete control. 

That’s an illusion, of course, and no one knows it better than me. No one is ever in control of their destiny. Lives are lost. Dreams are shattered. Hearts are broken. Right now, I could hit a pothole and flip the car. I could die before I ever make it into Saint’s office. 

But that’s the thrill, right? And when I finally pull into the foundation’s parking lot, I’m back in control. Because once again, I’ve shown that bitch Fate my middle finger. 

I’ve won.

For a moment, I simply sit in the driver’s seat, relishing my victory. Then I adjust the rearview mirror, grab the brush I keep in the glove compartment and go to work on my loose, dark brown curls. I always drive with a cap, which tends to prevent the worst tangles, but since the thing went flying, right now, I’m a mess.

I end up opening the trunk and getting my toiletry bag out of my suitcase. It has a small bottle of Argan oil, and I use a few drops to ease the tangles free. After years of driving Shelby, I’ve learned what necessities to have on hand. 

I take the opportunity to fix my makeup as well, using the rearview as a cosmetic mirror. Even having driven from LA with the top down, I’m still pretty put together, which is probably because I don’t use that much makeup to start with. Some golden eyeshadow to highlight my brown eyes. A smidge of gloss. Mascara of course, and just a hint of blush. 

Normally I’m not particular about my face and hair. Or my clothes for that matter. Sure, I enjoy dressing up for a night out, but my favorite part of being a reporter is living in jeans and a T-shirt. Because most days I’m sitting at my desk writing or working the phone.

Today, though, I want to look as professional as possible. I’ve never seen a photo of Saint where he doesn’t look sharp. Hell, dead-to-rights perfect. And I’ll be damned if I’ll walk in there without looking like his equal. If nothing else, Roger expects that.

I stayed with friends in Los Angeles yesterday after taking five days to drive from New York so I’d have Shelby with me in California. This morning, I’d done lunch with my friends, then meandered my way down to Laguna Cortez. My plan is to bunk with Brandy while I write the article about the foundation and research the facts surrounding Uncle Peter. She moved back after college, and I called last night to tell her I’d meet up with her after my interview.

I dressed for the interview before leaving LA. A simple black pantsuit with a white silk tank and a loose-fitting blazer. I’m wearing flats at the moment, but I reach into the back and grab the killer Christian Louboutin pumps I’d stashed there earlier. 

Designer shoes are my weakness, and since I can’t actually afford them, I’ve made them a game, searching them out in consignment stores, thrift stores, and online sites like eBay. I found these a few months ago at an estate sale. A total score. They also have the advantage of adding much-needed inches to my usual five-foot-five frame, which is always nice in an interview. I can hold my own, but extra height gives extra confidence. 

Once I’m all set, I grab my dad’s battered leather satchel that I use as a briefcase, then slide out of the car. I pause for a moment to look at the impressive building rising from what was once the slab of a long-demolished grocery store, the concrete baked and cracked. It had been an eyesore of disputed ownership, and Alex and I would walk across it some nights when we’d head out together for ice cream. 

We’d walk from Uncle Peter’s house to Pacific Avenue, the east-west street that serves as the access point for the Arts District. We’d get our ice cream from the corner store, then walk south along the Pacific Coast Highway for about a mile before crossing the highway to this lot. Then we’d keep walking toward the ocean and our tidal pools.

“What a wreck,” Alex said once, looking around at the cracked concrete and sunbaked weeds that marred the empty lot.

I’d looked around, then shrugged. “It’s just concrete.”

“It’s an eyesore. Right here between the Coast Highway and the ocean. It deserves better.”

“Well…” I cast about for a piece of discarded chalk. Kids used the lot to draw, so it wasn’t hard to find. I bent down and wrote El and Alex’s place, careful to use the nickname he’d started calling me a few weeks after our first kiss. Everyone else called me Ellie.

Then I’d grinned up at him. “It’s ours now. We can imagine it’s anything. Does that make it better?”

“Oh, El,” he’d said, with that sweet, sexy smile. “It does. It really does.”

Now, I stand frozen, lost in the memory. Then I swallow the lump in my throat and pull myself from the past. The building that now rises in front of me is all cement and steel and glass, with sleek lines and sharp angles. Five stories that sparkle in the sunlight, complemented by a wide swath of eco-friendly landscaping that peters out as it reaches the sandy beach.

It’s absolutely stunning, but I don’t like it at all. 

Because this building isn’t supposed to be here. And I don’t care about the environmentally responsible xeriscaping or the locally sourced materials. I don’t give a shit about the beauty of the angles or the way such a massive structure rises from the ground as if it is as native to the coastline as the craggy cliffs and rocky coves.

And I could care less about how the amazing Devlin Saint took a stretch of undeveloped land with disputed title, got it sorted out, and built something as remarkable as the DSF’s offices. 

Because this was our space. Our lot. And I hate Saint for stealing the memory from me.

A fresh burst of anger cuts through me. Not at Saint this time, or even Alex. No, this time, I’m angry at myself. Because Alex Leto was a prick. A manipulative son-of-a-bitch, and I don’t owe him a thing, much less warm and fuzzy memories. 

If I could banish him from my mind, I would, but at the very least, I need to exorcise the power he has over me. And, dammit, I’m going to start right now.

I draw in a series of deep breaths, purposefully gathering myself. Then I cup my hand over my forehead to shield my eyes from the sun as I reconsider the building. And this time I have to admit that it’s not so bad. At least Saint got out there and built something. Took an eyesore and turned it into something stunning. All Alex Leto did was run. 

I’d trusted him, and he’d ripped me to shreds.

But I’m smarter now. Stronger, too. Just like he said. 

And you know what? 

Fuck Alex Leto. Fuck him for leaving me during those already dark days. For slinking away without a word and never getting in touch again. For casting the final blow when I was already cracked and broken.

Mostly, fuck him for breaking my heart.

 

Coming 9.15.20:

Preorder here … don’t worry! You’re not charged until the book comes out!

• Amazon – https://jklinks.co/mfs_amz_aff
• AppleBooks – https://jklinks.co/mfs_apb_aff
• Nook – https://jklinks.co/mfs_nook
• Kobo – https://jklinks.co/mfs_kobo
• GPlay – https://jklinks.co/mfs_gplay

And remember: for EVERYONE who pre-orders and submits  proof of preorder through this form, I’ll be sending  you a BONUS prequel short story that is EXCLUSIVELY for readers who preorder the book!  It won’t ever be offered again! So don’t miss out!

 

Be sure to come back next Saturday for Chapter 5!

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