For those of you interested in the long and grueling writing process, you can compare my earlier “Final” draft of Chapter One to this version. Notice the differences in the “showing vs. telling” and what I chose to do to correct those problems. Instead of telling you what Dom looked like, I now show you through conversation with other characters, etc., etc. I’d love to hear your thoughts about the changes. I’m pretty proud of this version…but that’s not to say that it’s yet at it’s best. (I hope to God it is soon, though!)
June 2003 ~ Evanston, IL
Dom Russo had the ability to drink any one of his college buddies under the table and still act sober as hell. A talent that came in handy when he didn’t want to make a drunken ass out of himself. Like now.
He was standing on the sidewalk outside the last Northwestern graduation party he planned to attend, if only to spare his liver from developing a severe case of cirrhosis. Although it was much quieter out here, the muffled sounds of bass pounding from the stereo and the drunken shouts from the Frat house were an incessant din invading his mind.
Standing in front of him was his lifelong friend and, unbeknownst to her, star of most of his late-night fantasies, Angelica Rose Hart. They had gone to school together their entire lives and he’d loved her from the very beginning.
As she chatted with a friend Dom drank his beer and watched the breeze finger through her long, silken blonde hair. Subconsciously she brushed aside her long bangs to keep them from hiding her eyes; eyes shaped like almonds and the deep color of the Caribbean waters. She laughed at something her friend said, drawing his gaze to the source of that infectious sound. Her full, glossy lips beckoned, begging to be kissed. He ached to answer their call. To meld them with his own and claim them as his.
Angelica had kissed Dom more times than he could count. But they’d all been on his cheek. Unfortunately for him, he had always been stuck in the dreaded “friend zone” with her. When it came to any other woman Dom had all the confidence in the world. But when it came to Angelica, he never had the balls to let her know how he truly felt.
Finally she said goodbye to her other friend, turned back to him and worked at gathering her hair into a ponytail. Although he had the ability to come off as sober, it was still hard as hell trying to remember he shouldn’t be staring at her full breasts straining against the thin fabric of her pink sundress. With great effort he raised his eyes up to meet hers before she could notice.
“Thank you,” she whispered to herself with a sigh of appreciation when she finished.
“Who is it this time?” he asked in amusement. Angelica had a quirky habit of being thankful for inventors of modern conveniences. A little silly, sure. But super cute.
“The inventor of elastic hair ties,” she answered. “You have no idea how nice it is to snap off one of those babies from my wrist and just throw my hair up whenever I need to. You know,” she said while fingering his shaggy hair that sometimes fell over his forehead, “I think I have an extra one in the car if you want to use it for all this stuff hanging in your face.”
Dom chuckled and playfully slapped her hand away. “Get outta here.”
“You shouldn’t hide those beautiful blue-grey eyes of yours, you know,” she teased in mock concern. “After all, how’s a girl supposed to catch your eye if she can’t see them?”
His bottle of Budweiser froze halfway up to his lips. Partly because she was insinuating he cared what other girls thought, but mostly because she just described his eyes as beautiful. Did she think any of his other features were beautiful? “I think you should stick to being a doctor and leave the role of matchmaker for someone else.”
She laughed, making him shake his head and smile all over again. He lifted the bottle the rest of the way and took a long swig.
Shouts of playful threats drew his eye to a couple of mostly-naked frat boys running across the lawn. They each carried a bucket of water balloons in one hand and used the other to launch their liquid ammo at each other. One of them rocketed a balloon at his buddy who was now only a couple of feet away and not caring who was caught in the crosshairs of their war. When the overly-stretched latex exploded against its target, Angelica and Dom got sprayed with watery shrapnel. Angelica squealed in shock and automatically turned her body into Dom’s, her hands pressing against his chest. A reaction he was more than happy to oblige. A second later they were both laughing and taking stock of each other’s water “wounds.”
Angelica’s affectionate personality usually led people to assume they were a couple. It also let him get away with slightly more intimate gestures. Like using his thumb to wipe away water droplets that had splashed onto her delicate cheekbones or helping to free the damp wisps of bangs that had become ensnared in her long, inky lashes. She never thought twice about them and he wasn’t above taking advantage of that little fact.
“Oh, Dom, sweetie!” a female called from behind him. Dom didn’t have to turn around to know who the phony, sugary-sweet voice belonged to. It was the president of the Kappa Phi Lambda Sorority, and one of his earlier dalliances in the year, Brit Bana. Turning his head he let out a sigh as Brit bore down on him, closely followed by a handful of her sorority minions.
“Hiya, handsome,” she said with a million-watt smile that failed to move him.
“Brit. Ladies,” he acknowledged politely.
“I haven’t seen you around lately. I’ve missed that gorgeous mug of yours.” She draped herself onto him like a second shirt. “Daddy has a new job coming up for Calvin Klein. Have you given any more thought to my offer?”
Brit’s father was a freelance professional photographer. It was a known fact he gave his daughter commission on every good looking college guy she brought in for photo shoots. It was a lot cheaper to pay frat boys with pizza and beer than it was to hire professional models.
“’Fraid not, Brit,” he said as he pulled her arms from around his neck. A quick glance in Angelica’s direction showed him she was too amused with his current problem to offer any help.
“Come on,” she whined through her smile. “It’s just a couple of pictures. And all you have to do is be your devilishly-handsome self. You were born to be a model, Dom. All that flawless olive skin, jet-black hair, and chiseled features. There’s nothing wrong with showing off that luscious body of yours,” she gushed. “It’ll be painless, I promise.”
“Flattery won’t get you anywhere, Brit. I told you before it’s not my thing. You’ll have to go find some other college boy to be your father’s picture monkey.”
“Okay, fine,” she sighed with great exaggeration. “Then let’s head back to your place and I’ll let you take all the pictures you want…of me.” She laughed seductively and attempted to press herself against his chest. He stopped her with a hand to her waist that gently pushed her back.
“You’re drunk, Brit. Go home, okay?”
Dom expected her to pout and whine, but she surprised him when her brown eyes shot him with a cool indifference. “Whatever. It’s your loss. Come on, girls, let’s go.”
Brit spun on her heel and wobbled a bit before stalking away from him, her posse close on her heels spouting off words of encouragement and crude comments about his character.
He wiped a hand over his face and raked his fingers through his hair. Angelica laughed as her amusement switched to all-out delight. “It’s nice to see the Russo Reputation is alive and well.”
She was of course referring to his relationship habits – or lack thereof. He never engaged in anything more than casual trysts with any of the girls he got involved with (after all he wasn’t exactly a monk). “Hey,” he started in his defense, “I’m always up-front with them about not wanting a relationship. So they can hardly hold that against me.” Glancing in the direction Brit had huffed off to he grimaced and added, “Though they usually do anyway.”
He finished off the last of his beer and threw the bottle into a nearby trash barrel. Angelica gave him one of her concerned looks as she tried to anchor her long bangs behind her ear. “Are you sure you don’t want me to give you a ride home?” she asked. “It’s late and with as much alcohol as I saw you consume today I would have to think that your already shaky sense of direction has to be more than a little compromised. You could end up wandering around all night.”
Dom gave her an incredulous look and tried to appear emotionally wounded. “What? My sense of direction has never been shaky. I’m hurt that you would even suggest such a thing. When have I ever been lost?”
Without hesitation she held up her hands and started ticking off examples. “Well, let’s see. There was that time in high school when you were driving our group to that new restaurant in Chicago before the Homecoming dance and we almost ended up in Indiana. Oh, how about the time a few years ago when we went on that camping trip up to Devil’s Lake and it took us an extra day to get there because –”
“All right, all right,” he conceded with a smile. “You’ve made your point. There have been a couple of times in the past where my impeccable sense of direction has failed me. But I’m okay tonight. Besides, I need the fresh air before I crash and become oblivious to the world for the next few days or so.”
Angelica cocked her head to the side and narrowed her eyes at him, probably trying to decide if she should force the issue. Her scrutiny was beginning to make him feel slightly self-conscious. He most likely looked like hell. Dom knew his once-clean white tee shirt and blue jeans bore a plethora of colorful stains from an array of different alcohols, courtesy of several sloppy drunks. He probably looked like a walking abstract painting, but he couldn’t muster up the energy to care.
“Okay, if you insist,” she said, finally giving in. “Call me when you get home, though, okay? I don’t want to lose any sleep thinking I’m responsible for you lying in a gutter somewhere. I mean it, Dominic.”
She was the only one he allowed to get away with using his full name. Hell, he’d let her get away with just about anything.
“No problem. I think I can manage that.”
She reached up and put her arms around his neck for a hug goodbye. The sweet smell of cherry blossoms wafted around him, prompting a barrage of memories his mind associated with her signature scent. Dom wrapped his arms around her, but was careful not to hold her too close. To do that would make it more of an intimate embrace, rather than their usual platonic hugs. He exhaled a silent sigh of contentment. My angel.
He had used her goody-goody personality as his excuse to give her the nickname back when they were kids. It started out as something to tease her with whenever she balked at even bending the tiniest of rules, but as they grew older it metamorphosed into a term of endearment, albeit a casual one.
Given her name it was a predictable and obvious choice, but in truth Dom used it because that’s what she was to him. An angel. His angel. So many things in his life had been dark and evil, but she’d always had the ability to save him from all of it, whether she knew it or not.
She ended their hug and flashed him her killer smile. With all the alcohol coursing through his veins he had a hard time controlling the image of her bouncing on the clouds, sporting a shiny halo and a pair of wings. Wipe that dumb-ass look off your face, Russo, or she’ll think you’re too smashed to walk home.
At last he managed, “Goodbye, angel.”
She screwed up her face like he’d just said something distasteful.
“Goodbye? What happened to your usual ‘see ya later?’ You make it sound like we’re never going to see each other again.” In truth, he wasn’t sure what had prompted the change in his usual farewell. “If you miss Sunday brunch at my parents’ house my mom will have your head,” she warned. She gave a tired sigh and finished with, “Okay, you lush. Get your butt home and call me when you get there. Be careful, okay?”
Women. How do they survive on a daily basis with as much as they worry? Dom had learned it was always better to placate them to avoid unnecessary nagging. With a finger marking an X over his heart he said, “I’ll call as soon as I’m home. I swear. And I would never dream of missing Isabella’s famous waffles.”
She seemed satisfied with his solemn oath and turned to get into her metallic-pink Volkswagen Beetle. She gave him a final wave and smile before pulling away from the curb. He watched the Bug blink in and out of the pools of street lights until it finally blinked out of sight.
Dom knew she’d be fine since Angelica never drank. He almost wished she did. Then maybe he could see her do something stupid, something that he could consider a character flaw and maybe – just maybe – he wouldn’t be so wrapped up in her. Unfortunately for him, he couldn’t find a damn thing wrong with the girl.
Taking a deep breath and letting it back out slowly to try and clear his head, he turned in the direction of his small apartment. Now that Angelica was out of sight his surroundings came back into focus. He had to dodge the random idiots who couldn’t hold their liquor as they stumbled around the campus sidewalks, doing and saying things they wouldn’t remember in the morning, but would probably come back to bite them in the ass one way or another. Amateurs.
It was a typical hot and humid June night, but a nice breeze coming off of Lake Michigan made the air somewhat comfortable. After about ten minutes of walking Dom was finally out of the party areas and the streets were once again nice and quiet.
With nothing to distract his thoughts from Angelica he forced his brain to focus on other things. For starters, he needed to get ready for the police academy he was joining in a week. He was anxious to start training so he could jump into his career as a cop. It had been a pain in the ass going to college for police science when it wasn’t necessary in order to join the academy, but Dom wanted every edge he could get. He had no desire to be a beat cop in Chicago for his entire career. He wanted to work up through the ranks quickly to become a detective and fry bigger fish. Particularly, the kind of asshole fish he had been forced to live with growing up.
He had heard about the kind of foster parents that were caring and nurturing. The kind that fostered children to give them opportunities and families they wouldn’t otherwise have. Unfortunately, Dom had never met any. He had been given over to the kinds that were in it for the extra paychecks every month. The kinds that were neglectful and abusive more than not.
The only thing that had saved him from drowning in that morally depraved life had been Angelica and her parents. Since meeting in kindergarten her parents had invited him over often for play dates, and his could-give-a-shit foster parents had only been too eager to get rid of their burden as much as possible.
Dr. and Mrs. Hart were intelligent people who were aware of Dom’s situation and always did whatever they could for him without crossing the line into condescension or pity. Somehow they understood that his pride was all he had in the world and they were always careful to leave his intact.
Growing up around the Harts, Dom was shown what life could be like. What a real family should be. He couldn’t deny that he wanted to have his own family like that someday, but Dom knew it wasn’t likely. Even though he knew he could never be like the people (and he used that term loosely) that raised him (he used that term very loosely), the niggling thought that he had been permanently tainted by them scared him to death. What if he couldn’t be the type of husband or father that he wanted to be? What if, no matter how hard he tried, the slime from his upbringing was a permanent fixture on his soul and it ended up destroying those he loved? Even if that wasn’t a factor, he had to consider that his DNA was probably corrupted as well. He didn’t know anything about his biological parents, but they had to be real gems for the state to take him away as an infant.
For those reasons alone Dom never allowed himself to think he deserved Angelica. Although he believed he had the power to change his path in life to be a better man than the ones he grew up with, he would never take the chance of poisoning her with traits he may have repressed. There would be someone infinitely better suited for her, he was certain of that. Someone who had grown up as she had and would know how to give her that same type of life and love.
Either the alcohol had seriously dulled his senses or he’d been incredibly lost in his thoughts because Dom hadn’t heard the man approach that suddenly stood in front of him, blocking his path. He stopped abruptly and studied the unwelcome interruption.
The large man, who looked to be in his mid-twenties, easily stood about six and a half feet tall. Despite the hot weather he wore a long brown duster over his white button-down shirt that was neatly tucked into a pair of jeans. His sandy blonde hair hung long past his broad shoulders, which were coincidentally attached to the frame of a Mack truck.
He looked like a football player, but Dom didn’t recall him being on the Northwestern team. Not that he paid close attention to college football, but it’s hard to go to a Big 10 school and not be at least somewhat aware of the players.
Dom immediately didn’t like the guy’s stance and the cocky smirk on his ugly, bearded face. Actually, he was GQ-cover model material, but a strong male ego refused to let Dom admit that on anything more than a deeply subconscious level.
Something about the man’s presence pricked Dom’s survival instincts. His adrenaline kicked in. He usually tried to be the bigger man and walk away from fights, but he was always secretly disappointed when the other party didn’t press the issue. This could be fun, he decided.
“Dominic. It’s nice to finally meet you face to face. My name is Griffin and I’ll be your escort this evening.”
Griffin? Dom racked his brain, trying to remember if he’d ever heard anything about anyone named Griffin or how the guy might know his name. Dammit, why’d I have so much to drink at those parties?
“If you think you can mug me you’d better think again, pal. I won’t go down easily.” Taking a wide stance Dom clenched his fists to prepare for an attack.
The arrogant male laughed quietly and then gave Dom a wide smile, showing a row of brilliantly white teeth. The light from the street lamp above glinted off of two longer fangs, highlighting their sharp tips as though the light itself was trying to flash him a warning.
He’d heard about those Goth Vamp wannabe clubs, but he’d never actually seen a card-carrying member before. Great. A mentally unstable mugger. Just what he needed right now.
“I’m not here for something as trivial as your wallet, human. And I predict you’ll go down very easily.”
A split second later the guy was right in front of him, swinging a right hook towards his face. Dom barely had time to process what was happening when the world quickly went black.