Today, you’re in for a treat. Today’s excerpt comes from USA Today Best-Selling Author Toby Neal.
“A Thelma and Louise road trip gone wrong–only with samurai swords, tantra sex, and a big wolf dog.”
Rough Road is a prequel to Blood Orchids #1 in the Lei Crime Series, and falls right after Death In the Dark, Sydney Rye #2.
Lei pressed down on the accelerator. The bright red Mustang convertible surged forward and hot wind tossed her hair. Desert streamed by, populated by saguaro cactus and tumbleweeds. Beside her, Amy shrieked with glee at the speed, leaping up in her seat to throw her arms in the air. “Yee-haw!”
Lei flicked a glance at her friend, smiling. “You gotta lose that Texas-speak.”
“Heck no! And y’all better know it!” Amy sat back down. “How far to the resort?”
“Another hour or so.”
“This has been the perfect road trip.” The girls had left the San Francisco area three days before, tooling down Highway One along the Big Sur coast, spending a night in Pismo Beach and another in Los Angeles. They’d crossed the border into Mexico some hours ago.
“I agree. And we’re just getting to the piñata and margarita part.” Lei throttled back, pulling in behind a jacked-up pickup filled with rooster cages. A couple of pit bulls lolled their tongues out the back, panting in the heat. Lei smiled at the sight. This Mexican scene could be straight out of her old neighborhood on the Big Island of Hawaii, where she’d grown up.
Amy pulled her slim tanned legs up onto the seat, propping open the glossy Cabo San Lucas brochure on her knees. “Five days and four nights of epic partying. The drive down here was fun, but I’m ready for the dancing and cabana boys.”
“Me too,” Lei said, but she felt an internal quiver of doubt. Amy had begged for them to go for a real vacation this spring break. They’d had a heavy semester at their local community college in San Rafael, California, where Lei was working on a Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice and Amy was working on an RN. An unlikely pairing as friends, the girls had hit it off in one of their first general ed classes. Amy, from a wealthy family that had moved to California from Texas in her senior year of high school, had latched onto prickly, loner Lei—and somehow it worked.
“I just wish you didn’t have such an eyesore of a car,” Lei complained. “Why don’t we take out a billboard advertising what tourists we are? Seriously, we could always tell in Hawaii, whenever we saw one of these.” Lei and her family were originally from the Aloha State. She was proud to be a hapa local girl, half Japanese, one-quarter Hawaiian, and one-quarter Portuguese. This mix of races had given her unique looks: curly brown hair, big tilted eyes, olive skin, and a lean runner’s build.
“Who cares? I’m not ashamed of being who I am,” Amy said. “Yeah, I’ve got money and I’m from Texas. Got big hair and boobs, too.” She bounced, illustrating her words. “I’ve never understood your need to blend in.”
“No act,” Lei said. “A saying we have in Hawaii. Means don’t get above yourself. Standing out isn’t a good thing. It can be dangerous, too, in a place like this.” Lei gestured to the barren landscape. “Fortunately, this is a pretty major road.” Lei’s application to the Marin County Police Academy was already in. Through life experience and her college courses, Lei knew too much about the many ways people preyed on each other.
“You’re such a worrywart. How are we going to get any action except by getting attention?” Amy set the brochure for their resort back in the side pocket of the car’s door. “I’m telling you. I’m looking for some fun. That’s why we’re getting separate rooms—I plan on some chandelier-swinging and wall banging.”
“Thank God we have separate rooms, then.” Lei smiled at her friend, but felt that quiver again. She, too, hoped she’d meet someone nice and have fun—but she was way too messed up inside to just bring someone back to the room to have sex. On the other hand, she didn’t want to be tied up in knots about it anymore, either. Charlie Kwon, her mother’s drug-dealing boyfriend, had made her damaged goods—but that didn’t mean she had any intention of staying that way.
“You fall down, girl, you get back on the horse,” her Aunty Rosario, the guardian who’d raised her after her mother’s death, was fond of saying. Trouble was, the two times she’d had sex had been disastrous. She’d felt disconnected, her body stiff as a corpse, unable to even get into it, let alone have one of the orgasms Amy felt so loudly entitled to.
“You’re a shitty lay,” her last partner had declared. “Like doing it with a mannequin.” She hadn’t tried since. But, maybe third time was the charm and her libido would kick in on an exotic vacation in Cabo. She could hope, and maybe with enough tequila…
They reached a crossroads. Lei slowed down to a stop under a blinking red light that dangled between a couple of poles. “Can you check the map? I think we keep going straight here, but we should see the ocean by now.”
“Sure.” Amy set down the bottle of tanning lotion she’d been applying to her shoulders. “Pull over so I can take a look at it.”
Lei eased the Mustang over onto the soft, sandy shoulder as Amy unfolded the map. Lei stayed alert, watching the other cars and trucks approach and move on. Most treated the red light as a mere suggestion. A pickup full of young men wolf-whistled and called out compliments in Spanish, along with crude hand gestures.
“Hurry up, Amy!” Lei slid down out of sight in her seat, getting more nervous by the minute at their vulnerable position.
“It’s just another thirty miles, but we need to make a right here,” Amy folded the map at last. “Good thing we stopped.”
Lei pressed the gas pedal and hit the signal for a right turn—but when she accelerated, the rear-wheel drive of the sports car lost traction in the sand. She increased the gas, but the tires just spun, spraying sand behind the vehicle. Lei turned the wheel back and forth, seeking some purchase with the front tires, but instead they seemed to be working themselves deeper.
“Shinola!” Amy exclaimed, not one for swearing. A large, battered truck pulled up in front of them with a winch on the rear bumper. “Oh, this is handy.”
Two men got out. Lei stopped the useless spinning of the tires and sat, hands clenched on the wheel, teeth gritted, as Amy waved. The two approached. Both were young Hispanics with lots of tattoos. They smiled at Amy as Lei scowled.
“Hola!” Amy chirped. “Habla inglés?”
“Un poco,” The first man to reach them had greasy, shoulder-length hair and a silver chain the size of Lei’s finger dangling across a chest he was clearly proud of. His grin was missing a tooth. He leaned an arm on the frame of the windshield. “We help you.”
The other man approached Lei’s side. He was short, with a shaved, shiny head, thick neck, and the broad shoulders of a wrestler, reminding Lei of a Hispanic Vin Diesel. Probably someone’s nice dad or uncle, here to give aid. Lei wasn’t convinced of that, though, because the expression in his dark eyes was speculative as they ran over her, the car, and Amy. She glanced around for anyone else noticing what was going on. Cars continued to whiz by without slowing.
“We pull you out,” Missing Tooth told Amy. “Me Joao. This Fernando.” He gestured to the bald man.
“Gracias, Joao! Me llamo, Amy. And this is Lei.” Amy’s limited Spanish failed as she gestured.
Lei inclined her head stiffly, inhaling a strong waft of unwashed body and stale beer from Joao’s armpit. “Hola.”
The bald man returned to the truck and fiddled with the winch on the back, unspooling a length of cable connected to a heavy steel hook. Lei craned her neck to see what he was doing as he flattened out in the sand and reached under the front bumper with the hook. She heard a clunking sound as he got it secured. He backed out, standing up and dusting sand off his hands. His eyes gleamed, and he smiled for the first time. She felt his gaze on her like a touch.
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