Chapter One: Ocean
My name is Ocean Breeze. Yep. Ocean freakin' Breeze. It was my mom's attempt at some posh-sounding name. She was inspired by—get this—a bottle of toilet air-freshener. My heart squeezed at the thought of a cookie-scented woman with hugs that held sunshine.
The sound of my Nikes pummelling the pavement chased away my thoughts. The slapping of rubber against asphalt was similar to the slap the last prostitute-abusing john gave me. Stinking bastard. No one raises a hand to Ocean Breeze without losing an appendage. Or more, as the case may be.
I swiped my hands on my vinyl, red miniskirt. It wasn't exactly an attractive outfit—Nikes with a miniskirt? But I've learned the hard way. Running in heels never worked. Ever. The sleazy men who paid for sex didn't care what was on my feet, only what was between them.
I jumped and jived through the crowd. It was two in the morning, and the streets of Kings Cross, Sydney, were a hive of activity. Drunken students hauled themselves from karaoke clubs. Rich business men back-slapped each other for the lap dance from the uni-student, who pocketed their tips to pay for her law degree. This place was full of clichés and smut.
And I loved it.
I could disappear here. I was a nobody. Even boasting a pair of ruby lips and a figure that could've graced the center fold of Playboy, I didn’t stand out. Beauty was coveted in the Cross, and plastic surgery was the salvation if nature didn’t do the work.
So why was I running?
I just killed a guy. That's why.
I bolted past the three-story sized Coca-Cola advertisement, blazing red and white, and disappeared into an alley full of meth-heads and crack whores. I leaped over comatose figures, sprinting toward the city centre. Keep running. Get far away.
The night was heavy with muggy heat, unusual for this time of year, and sweat made my miniskirt slide against my thighs.
Kings Cross embraced sin and naughtiness. The suburb encouraged unleashed pleasure and endless partying. It also encouraged rapists and murderers who lurked in the shadows. . . waiting.
A flash of blue and red lights.
Fuck! I pirouetted on my heel and charged down another alley, passing a gay club blasting Kylie Minogue. Ugh.
Yeah, no chance of that, Fat Cop. I flipped him the bird, and kept running. He jumped back in his cruiser and gave chase. Lazy bastard. Too many kebabs and doughnuts for that slob. He wouldn't catch me. No one ever caught me.
I smiled. I loved the chase. I loved the kill. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. I didn’t enjoy murdering someone, but I did enjoy the knowledge that he’d never hurt another. My cut-throat actions saved other would-be victims. Plus, that john deserved it.
Memories overtook my vision. Heavy breath on my cheek, rancid smell as he slobbered on my neck. Then warm, oozing blood as my weapon of convenience—a long skinny oyster knife—buried deep in the man's groin. Ridding him of a vital piece of his anatomy and draining his body of crimson. One moment alive, the next—not. Then rushed practicality: Dispose of my surgical gloves. Wipe the corpse with antiseptic wipes. Remove the man's DNA, fingerprints, and blood from my body.
Adrenaline spiked, dousing my already overloaded system. My heart thudded as fast as the bass at a techno club. The pavement flickered and I stumbled.
No, not now! My vision danced like a mirage. I no longer had control of my body.
Sirens were closer, breathing down my neck. Keep moving, Ocean! For freakin' sake, move!
No amount of yelling could stop the migraine from consuming me. I screamed and clutched my temples, slamming to the concrete. The sidewalk danced under my phantasm goggles, no longer acting like rock and tar, but candy floss and gossamer. I'm going. I'm going. . .
Cold claws grasped my bare shoulders. “You're coming with us.”
No! The unrelenting crush of pain ricocheted in my skull. I wanted to die. Cuffs shackled my wrists, and I was dragged, then stuffed into the back of a police car.
The agony danced with nausea, tangoing in a way that tested my stomach’s willingness to evacuate its measly contents.
Precious minutes passed while I grappled with the migraine. When only a gentle pounding remained, I opened my eyes. I didn't know where I was.
The tense shoulders of policemen kick-started my breathing. I narrowed my eyes. This was quite a predicament: shackled in the back seat of a police vehicle.
I glared at the fat, uniformed man who'd cuffed me. “You have no reason to arrest me.” Please tell me they didn't find the john. There was no way they could’ve found him already. And I knew there wasn't a drop of blood on me. There never was. I was clean. Efficient. Ruthless.
While I waited to be graced with an answer, the lull of the car tires slowed my heart, and the rest of my headache seeped back like a tide.
“You're a working girl. We have every reason to arrest you.”
I sighed, slouching into the cracked vinyl seat. Relief flooded me. If this was just a routine grab-and-administer-friendly-sex-education, that was fine by me. I might even get a free dinner out of it. My stomach rumbled in agreement. Food would be good. Food was hard to get when you had no cash. Too long this time, Ocean. You need to suck up your pride and go back.
The cop mistook my relief for annoyance. He turned in his seat, pointing a finger in my face. “You listen here, girl, we're only looking out for you. Don't pull that attitude.”
I slipped into slutty prossie. An act I'd perfected, but never played in real life. It was all an act—my entire existence. I didn't know the real me anymore. Batting my eyelashes, I pouted. “Attitude? I don't have an attitude. But if you let me go, I'll make it worth your while.” I licked my lips suggestively. Ugh, this was gross. As if I would stoop to sleeping with strangers.
His face went beetroot red and he spluttered. Seriously, had he never been propositioned by a working girl? What were the odds?
The officer driving, muttered, “You keep that trap shut, missy, if you know what's good for you.”
I took his advice. We travelled the short distance to the cop station in uneasy silence. When we arrived, my door opened, and my elbow was grabbed in an awkward tug to help me out. It didn't help, just hurt. My elbow screamed in protest; my shoulder almost popped out of alignment. “Hands off. I know how to exit a freakin’ car.” I narrowed my eyes.
The officer huffed, but let go. Unobstructed, I followed my captors into the building and waited to be processed.
The station was tired: Faded paint, chipped flooring, florescent lighting which punched you in the eye, and a bunch of deadbeats asleep in orange plastic chairs. Yep. Same as last time.
A grey haired, pinch-lipped lady glared at me over her spectacles. Could this get any more cliché? First the fat-doughnut-loving cop, now the bird-like receptionist and her half-moon spectacles. I rolled my eyes. The sooner this was over, the sooner I could forget.
Male hands fumbled on my lower back and wrists, unlocking my handcuffs. When they popped free, I rubbed my skin, glaring pointedly at Mr. Fat Policeman.
The woman cocked her head. “No jokes, young lady. Name.”
“I'm not joking. Ocean Breeze.” I hated this. Every single freakin’ time, this happened. No one believed my mother would name me after toilet air-freshener.
“Hold please.” The lady tap-tapped on her keyboard. A tense moment later, she nodded at the officer behind me. “We have her records. Take her into interrogation room four, Officer Wade.”
I sighed. I could kiss five hours of my life goodbye once I stepped into that room. This never went easy. Unless I left of course. Hmm, there was an idea. Did I have enough calories to leave? Could I be bothered sitting through the pathetic glances, the snide remarks, the pity looks?
As I trudged after Wade, I tensed my stomach muscles. Almost instantly a headache formed. Yep, I was strong enough to leave, but how far I’d get I didn't know. I needed food. I’d see how much I could take, and if they hadn't booked me by the time the sun rose, I was outta here. Hopefully.
The metal door clanged shut behind me. I plonked onto a very uncomfortable plastic chair. The viewing window showed my tacky, heavily mascaraed fake eyelashes; my ebony eyes were pits of darkness. I missed the blue. My eyes started morphing from sapphire to black when the scorch marks began in my twenty-first year.
And of course I had to think about that now. I hissed between my teeth as a lacerating burn erupted on the upper part of my spine. I should've expected it. I killed. A toll must be paid. I sat frozen as the branding heat spread through me, delving deeper into my soul. I gasped as ice and gravel replaced my warmth and will to do right. Another piece was taken. Another fragment of soul sucked into oblivion. What was I becoming?
I jumped as Officer Wade appeared, spreading my file open on the table. His jowls and overweight belly were suitable for a sofa, not a police station.
And just like that all my nightmares reared their ugly head. My heart refused to beat; my skin turned corpse cold. No matter how hard I became, or how much I lied to myself that I was a ruthless murderess, I could never escape the terror.
The scorn and annoyance lining Officer Wade's face evaporated, leaving only pity as he studied the blood-soaked photograph of an eight-year-old girl.
Go on. Tell me how I was statistically meant to be a screw up. How no one could survive something like that and be normal. I sure wasn't normal.
Officer Wade refused to meet my eyes, instead he stood and opened the door. “Um, Callan? I mean, Officer Bliss? Can you come in here a tick?”
Now what? Calling for reinforcements to deal with the screwed up girl? Of course. I was just so scary.
Another man entered, this one wasn't bad looking. His sandy blond hair was streaked by the sun—a dead give-away he was a surfer. Sun-kissed hair was a signature trademark in Aussie: Woman with fake boobs had trophy children; men with sun-bleached hair, surfed.
His muscular chest stretched the material of his blue police shirt. The snaps hung on for dear life, holding the fabric in place. Either he shrunk his shirt in the wash, or it was the wrong size. Not that I minded. I appreciated a good physique as much as the next girl.
Was he as perfect beneath the shirt and trousers as he appeared? Not that I cared of course.
A dimple appeared on one cheek as he smiled. “I'm Officer Bliss. I'll be sitting in on tonight's talk.” He moved like the sea he obviously lived in—he reeked of salt and freedom.
“Talk? Yeah, okay, let's pretend this is a talk,” I snorted, while keeping a careful eye on Mr. Surfer Dude. He cracked a laugh, taking a seat next to Wade.
He dragged the file toward him. I had the pleasure of watching the healthy tan drain from his face. His sea-green eyes darted to Wade's brown ones. A silent conversation took place. Not that it was really silent. I could guess what they were thinking.
Is this real?
The poor girl!
How could anyone survive this?
Some people cannot be saved.
Well, I had news for them: I didn't need saving. I was in control of my life thank you very much. I liked being me. I liked doing what I did best. Killing.
I tensed, pulling energy from my molecules, wincing as my head roared with gushing pain. Time for me to leave. Please let me have enough energy.
“I'm sorry, Ms. Breeze. You obviously didn't have the upbringing I did. And for that I want to tear apart the bastards who raped you,” Officer Bliss muttered. A vein popped on his temple, hands curled.
The passion. That voice—like churning waves in a storm. The shock stopped my deportation power, and I stayed put. This might get interesting. He broke the rules. Cop protocol normally included me being ignored while they chatted as if I wasn’t in the room.
“Go on. . .” I invited, while watching every nuance of his body language. Over the years, I mastered the art of reading people. I was now a walking lie detector. If his anger was fake, so help him I wouldn't just disappear, I'd take something of his too. Namely his gun.
“How old were you?”
“It says it there in the file.” I crossed my arms, wincing a little at my sore elbow. Stupid Wade and his rough hands. I shot him a scowl.
“You don't want to talk about it?” Officer Bliss watched me with a predator stare. His gaze so intense it was as if he touched me from across the table.
I barked a laugh. Was this guy for real?
Leaning as far back as the torturous chair would let me, I purred, “Do you honestly think I want to talk about it?” Don’t make me!
Those sea eyes never flinched, but stress lines appeared around his mouth. “All right. I'll talk about it.” Clearing his throat, he recited, “On the 26th of May 1996, your parents and older brother were killed by two madmen. You were forced to watch as the murderers sliced limbs off your parents with a chainsaw, and made you stand in pools of blood.”
Salvia pooled as nausea rolled through me. He was going to make me relive it. Bastard.
His eyes flickered to mine before returning to my file, but not before I glimpsed the harsh pity residing in his gaze. It etched his face, tainting the air between us. “Once your family was slaughtered, the men then killed your sheep dog, and used the blood to paint devil signs on your naked eight-year-old body.”
I was no longer in the room. I was back there. Back in horror-filled hell. My eyes only saw blood and death. My heart ceased to beat.
Officer Bliss took a shuddering breath. “You weren't found for two days. By then you were catatonic. You hadn't moved from the spot where the murderers told you to stay. For two days you stood, naked and covered in blood, watching your dismembered family be consumed by flies. The rape kit came back positive and you didn't speak a word for three years.”
Terror, akin to what coursed through me when I was eight, made me shudder. The corpses of my loved ones were all I could see. Why did he dredge up the past? What did it accomplish? Other than hurt me beyond anything I’d admit to. Shouldn’t he be berating me for the so called prostitution charge?
The interrogation room swam with ghosts of the past. Memories swarmed me, thick and fast. Bile lined my throat while my stomach squeezed itself to death. I tried to fight it, to keep my anger, but I was small again. Defenceless again. My quavering body frozen with fear. Blood. Warm. Oozing. My nose full of the copper tang as my parents' life-force turned the lounge carpet into a swamp of death. Strong hard fingers prying at my eight-year-old body. Grunts and thrusts as the two murderers ravaged my small frame.
No! Stop. It's over. No more. No one would hurt me like that ever again. “Shut up! Stop it!”
Officer Bliss jumped and slammed the file closed. “I'm—I'm sorry.”
My eyes were wild. It was over. So why was I suddenly that eight-year-old again? I prided myself on being an ice queen. My heart long ago succumbed to the cold embrace of frost, but even as I clawed my way from the past, the air in the tiny room was sucked into a black hole of misery and evil. It’s in the past, Ocean. You survived.
Fat Officer Wade cleared his throat, awkwardness in every word. “Tell me about tonight. I flashed my lights at you. Why did you run? Prostitution isn’t illegal, but you’re required to stop if requested to do so.”
I latched onto the topic. The memory of taking that bastard's life sent satisfying, fiery strength through me. The cold claws of anxiety let go, and I resettled into my actress self. This was safe. I was safe. I ran because I killed a man. Like I'd ever admit that.
“I wasn’t doing anything wrong, I saw no reason to stop. Excuse me if I don't trust the law. If you continue with the gruesome details of my file you will also know the two men were never caught.” I hated myself for the rush of tears which pressed my eyelids. I would not cry. Not now. Not ever. “How can I respect the law who let the devil's spawn live after my family died?” I pierced them each with a glare. “Believe me, you would run too.”
Officer Bliss clenched his jaw.
I couldn't understand him. He wore an aura of old cop, which wasn't true because I guessed he was only late twenties, but his tanned face was ashen. Had he never seen a case like mine? I was hardly unusual. Not common, but not unusual.
He shook his head, clearing the horror from his eyes. “Why sell yourself? After everything you survived, why allow sleaze-bags to touch you? To buy you?” He swallowed hard. The way he asked was very personal. As if he needed to know. Not the cop force he represented. “Kings Cross is the capital of prostitutes, why degrade yourself?”
He truly did care. It wasn't an act. I would have sniffed that out of him in a heartbeat. I couldn't afford to allow sympathy to thaw my frozen heart. I was an assassin. A killer who took the lives of men who didn't deserve to live. Men like the ones who took my innocence—my chance at a happy life, and chopped it to smithereens with a chainsaw.
Sniffing, making my voice as cold as Antarctica, I said, “Are you going to wrap up this pity party and book me? Or should I order a pizza and get the tissues ready for a cry fest?”
Officer Wade spluttered, but it was Bliss who gave me a wry smile. “You're tougher than you look. I respect that.”
Despite myself, I returned his smile. It was nice to invoke pride in a man's eyes for once, rather than fear and knowledge he was about to die.
“Well, we don’t have any evidence you were up to no good. So what should we book you on?” Officer Bliss asked, picking up a pen to flick over his knuckles.
Ah, he was one of those: Never able to sit still. I always wondered how people did that with a pen. I watched in fascination as his fingers balanced the thin Bic, twisting between his digits effortlessly. My face grew hot. His fingers were agile. Long, graceful. . . what else could he do—? Stop that, Ocean. You're dirtier than a truck driver.
I leaned forward, well aware my cleavage was pushed to the max, and spilling over my boob-tube. Tacky, smutty, but I’d been bait tonight after all. It wasn't like I always dressed like this. That was the price to pay on this particular mission.
It took me seven years not to slice and dice at the barest of brushes against my skin, but now I was a robot. I was as good as dead inside and it was only going to get worse. My back twinged in agreement. The scorch marks on my spine held evidence I was a ticking disaster.
Answering his question, I smirked. “Well, Mr. Tub-o-lard over there seems to think I was selling my booty. So I guess that's what you book me on.”
“Were you? Selling yourself, I mean?” Officer Bliss's eyes practically begged me to say no. What was with guys wanting to believe in innocent women? Did it matter I'd only slept with two men in my entire twenty-four-year existence?
“Yes. Yes I was selling myself. Good coin, too.” Take that, Mr. Sympathetic. I don't want your pity.
His eyebrows fell, causing a slight frown to appear. I bet he had a little wifey at home who was curled up asleep waiting for him to finish work. Men like him didn't last long on the market.
“Officer Wade, would you mind stepping outside for a moment?” Officer Bliss looked pointedly at chubby.
“Eh, sure. I'll be close if you need me.”
“Care to bring back a doughnut? I'm starved!” I threw after him. I didn't get the reaction I hoped for. The door slammed shut.
Officer Bliss eyed me. “When was the last time you ate?”
Oh please. Here we go with the protectiveness. I wasn't his to protect. Lay off already.
“A few hours ago.” It wasn't—more like this time yesterday. You needed money to eat. I could get my hands on stacks of the stuff, but I wasn't a thief.
“Where do you live?”
“Around,” I hedged. Did he really want to hear my accommodation normally included a cardboard box or a dingy mattress in a safe community house for the night?
“Do you do drugs?”
Now hang on a freakin’ second. “Do you truly think, after the fucked-up childhood I've endured, I would put crap in my body?” I jutted my arms out, showing pearly perfect skin with no track marks. “See.”
“You put crap in your body in the form of guys' cocks,” Officer Bliss pointed out. He couldn't have surprised me more if he slapped me. What was this guy's deal? Try living my life, buggo and we'll see who gets to judge.
“That is none of your concern. Now, are you going to let me go or what?” I pretended to be bored, when I was riled up tighter than lightning. I wanted out of there. I wanted away from this cop who looked into my soul. He wasn't safe. He might see the truth of who I was.
“You're free. I won't book you tonight. We don't have you down as a prostitute, so consider this a warning.” He wriggled his pen in my face. “But if we catch you in the Cross again, you won't be so lucky.”
He would never catch me again. It was a miracle they got me tonight. I saluted him. “Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir.”
Half his mouth quirked in a smile. Damn, did he have to be so sexy? He looked as if he stepped off a Billabong advert for board shorts. Great, now an image of him half naked and dripping with salt water paraded in my head. Time to leave.
Standing, I edged toward the door, raising my eyebrow and tapping my foot. “Do you mind releasing me then?”
He stood. He was taller than I originally thought. A whiff of cologne battered me—a scent of salt and spice; summer evenings with stolen kisses. Whoa. Get away from this man immediately.
“I'm not letting you go that easily. You haven't eaten, I can tell. I'll buy you dinner before I'll call my work done for the night.”
My eyes bugged. I didn't hear him right. “Dinner? You want to buy me dinner? Yeah, pull the other leg.”
This guy was ludicrous. Or insane. I'd go with insane. I bet he rescued puppies and kittens and nursed them back to health. Well, newsflash, I was neither a kitten nor a puppy. I had teeth and could freakin’ well take care of myself.
“Maybe some other time.” I cocked my head at the exit.
He refused to open the door. A look stole across his face as he stepped into my personal bubble. “Not negotiable. Don't make me cuff you.”
He played with fire. I did not appreciate threats, but a free dinner would be good. My eyes narrowed. “Fine.” I tried to think of an expensive place that was healthy too. I'd been living on crap for so long. “I want sushi.”
“No problem. I love sushi. I'll take you to Yachiyo.”