Happy Wednesday, everyone!
As you know, my latest project, Shot Through Time, is releasing on the 25th. I'm soooo excited for you to read it! In fact, I'm so excited that I have to share the first chapter with you right now. I can't wait any longer!
Read on for the first chapter, plus information on how to read the first FOUR chapters before release day!
Dante Hernandez is sure of only three things: he didn't deserve to go to prison, his gang mates want him dead, and if the cops find him, he can kiss his chance at freedom goodbye. Running for his life, Dante stumbles onto a huge secret-- a time machine hidden in the Arizona desert. Seizing the opportunity to go back and right the wrongs committed against him, he uses it to travel to the night everything changed for the worse. Unfortunately, his plans are shattered when the vehicle malfunctions, shooting him into the Wild West and stranding him over one hundred and fifty years from his intended path. Lost in a lawless and untamed world, Dante finds himself holed up in the mining town La Paz, struggling to make any kind of life for himself. It doesn't help that the sheriff is a merciless racist set on making him miserable, as well as a prominent historical figure. When Dante meets Abagail Baker though, he realizes there is a lot more at stake than his own survival. History can be cruel, and there is a terrible destiny awaiting the woman who seems to see right through his lies. Caught between his old life and the possibility of the new one before him, Dante has only two options. Will he return to his own century and clear his name, allowing history to go on untainted, or will he be branded as one of the desperados of the West?
If Dante’s Abuela could have seen him now, she would have beat the shit out of him with her chancla.
To be fair, he deserved it. Even if Dante had chosen a different road in life, there was a good possibility that God, or The Universe, or whatever was out there would have fucked him over anyway.
Sighing, Dante slumped in the small, padded, plastic chair, staring out the window to the city street. It was deceptive, this office building. Stationed among the ten or so other high-rise buildings in downtown La Paz, there was a golden gleam in the windows. The floor sparkled, its marble pattern speckled with silver spots. Southwestern art and portraits of historic Arizona figures hung on the walls. Everyone who worked here wore a business suit or skirt, perfectly polished shoes clacking along as if they hadn’t a care in the world. If one didn’t know any better, they would have assumed the Young Mining Company was at the peak of refinement and modern society just from visiting their corporate location.
Dante knew better. He was a dark speck in a sea of white, clothed in the nicest t-shirt and pair of jeans he owned. Everything about him didn’t fit in with this place. It was clean, energized, and beautiful.
He was dirty in more ways than one.
In front of him, an executive looking man took a sip from his steaming cup of coffee, eyebrows furrowed as he read over Dante’s resume. Across the desk between them, papers were neatly organized and tabbed, a laptop closed on one corner. An empty work basket sat nearby, a sharpened pencil placed just so between them, as if its location had been keenly considered and planned by the interviewer. At the very front of the table, a name plaque read Andrew Johnson, Hiring Manager.
A frown pulled the man’s lips downward, nose crinkling in distaste. “You’re living in a halfway house?” Finally daring to meet Dante’s eyes, he set the stapled document down, folding his hands together in his lap. The high-backed chair he sat in swiveled, leaning back as he rested in it.
Dante nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“Two months there, after eleven years in the state prison.” Johnson’s attention returned to the application. Grinning, he glanced up. “At least we know you’re legal since you weren’t deported. What did you do?”
Dante stiffened, swallowing, and took a deep breath. Of course this interview was going to be like all the others. As soon as anyone saw where he was living or found out he’d been locked up for a while, the chance of getting a job with them was flushed down the toilet. No one wanted an ex-convict as the face of their company, especially a Latino one. He was a walking statistic, confirming all the racist bullshit the media spewed forth daily.
Laughing, the manager shook his head. “You don’t have to tell me specifics. The resume shares enough. You’re reforming yourself with the help of the halfway house and looking for a job. Sounds like whatever happened, you’re trying to move on from it.”
A small blossom of hope knotted in Dante’s chest. “That’s right. I, uh, got into some trouble when I was younger.”
“And eleven years was plenty of time to think it over,” Johnson agreed. Sitting forward, he tapped his fingers on the edge of the desk, appearing somewhat interested. “Tell me about your education. You were arrested when you were, what, nineteen? Any college before that?”
“No, sir,” Dante replied quickly, sitting straighter. “I got my Associates while I was detained.”
“General education, but I took the business courses, too. What I could, anyway. I wasn’t able to attend enough to get a certificate.”
Johnson snorted. “Busy in jail, is it?” Huffing, he pursed his lips, falling silent.
“I can learn whatever you need me to,” Dante continued. “I’m good at picking things up. I don’t mind working my way from the bottom, either. You could start me in the mailroom, or even as a gopher, answering phones, whatever. I’m bilingual—”
“Hernandez,” Johnson stated, raising a hand and closing his eyes for a beat before revealing a piercing glare. “Dante Hernandez. I just realized why that name sounds so familiar. You’re the kid that killed that cop in Phoenix all those years ago, aren’t you?”
Dante’s mouth snapped shut, insides going cold. Shoulders slumping, he stared at the floor, going quiet. Dark bangs swung in front of his face, hiding Johnson partially from view.
“We are very supportive of our law officers at this company. I don’t know that hiring a man who killed one would work in our favor.”
At least Johnson sounded apologetic. All the others who’d realized who he was had been rude, at best. The small courtesy didn’t matter, unfortunately. As soon as the words left his lips, Dante knew the interview was over, and any chance of being hired had flown out the window.
Rising, Dante brushed the hair out of his eyes, mixing it with the rest of the curls surrounding his ears. “Thanks for meeting with me,” he mumbled.
“Maybe you could try getting on at the actual mine,” Johnson offered.
Dante snorted, meeting the man’s stare. “Where no one would see me, you mean?”
Johnson’s face flushed, and he shook his head violently. “That’s not what I meant at all.”
Moving to the exit, Dante showed himself out.
Ignoring Johnson and the looks and whispers from those in the hallway, Dante strode to the elevator. It took much more effort than it should have for him to wait until the doors shut to punch the metallic wall. Four, knuckle sized dents shone on the surface when he pulled away.
Swearing, he jammed his finger against the button for the ground floor and shoved his hands in his pockets, gripping the small rosary hidden there. The tightness in his chest continued to build, furious hatred seeping into every pore and cell of his body. As soon as the lift opened, he found himself speed-walking toward the building’s revolving door, shoving his way outside and continuing down the sidewalk in a huff. He didn’t know where he was going, or what to do now, but the desire to find some way to let off steam gnawed at his insides.
If he’d been home—his real home, not the halfway house he was forced to live in now—he maybe could have had a drink. The shooting range just down the road always welcomed him with open arms. Hell, even hanging out with José’s crew playing cards and listening to music was a good way to relax.
He wasn’t home, though. Drinking was against the restrictions of the house he was staying in. So was owning a gun. Worst of all, if José got word of where he was, Dante would be dead before he knew what was happening.
Huffing, Dante stopped his furious march of the city streets, plopping down on a bus stop bench and folding his arms. It would have been easy, allowing his anger to continue to grow and explode all over some unfortunate person. All he wanted to do was scream about the atrocities committed against him, the unfairness of how his life had turned out.
Instead, he pulled the string of chain and beads from his pants, twisting it between his fingers and allowing the white stone cross to rest in his palm. As he stared at the chunky design, tan lines streaking through the rock, some of the angst inside him lessened, replaced by sadness. How many times had he held this thing over the years? It was only a small chaplet, shorter than his forearm, with a few brown and tan beads placed on the chain. They were painted to look like the cross, with accent globes on either side. Those were a clear brownish-yellow, or metallic. On the very end of the straight chord, a fancier emblem hung, reminding him of a round incense burner like the priests would swing at church. He could still hear Abuela telling him it was her favorite, the joy and reverence in her voice unmistakable.
Sighing, Dante quietly tucked it out of sight, rubbing a hand over his face. There was no use in sitting out here, sulking. Curfew was only two hours away, and half of that would be taken up by the bus ride to the house. There wasn’t much to do downtown anymore either, now that his interviews were over. Deciding it would be best to just head home, he made himself comfortable and noted on the schedule posted beside the bench that his bus would be arriving in twenty minutes.
It had been a rough day. Along with Samuel Young Mining refusing him a position, he’d been turned down by a coffee shop, a garbage collection company, and a pest control service. Every single one of them had suggested he try the gold mine on the outskirts of town or the farms on the other side of the Colorado River.
Unfortunately, because they were in California, Dante was not allowed to work there. Remaining in Arizona was a requirement of his release, which was stupid. The state capitol was split between two states. There was literally a third of the city he couldn’t visit or apply for a job in because the damn river cut it off. He couldn’t go to Phoenix if he wanted to live. Tucson had hardly anything better to offer, not to mention the fact that José went there often and would probably find him. The state penitentiary had been kind enough to release him in La Paz, but they’d also effectively stranded him there.
It was starting to feel like he’d never get out of the halfway house. He needed to have another place to live before they let him go, not to mention a job to pay for it. At the rate things were going now, the government was going to have to extend their year limit for staying in such a place if they didn’t want to kick him out onto the street.
Abuela’s voice entered his mind once again. You get what you work for, niño.
Well, he’d certainly worked for this. It’d been a shit turn out so far, but there was no doubting it was deserved.
It was hard to decide precisely where things went wrong. A cumulation of things happened over the years. Maybe if Dante’s father had been around, or if his mother hadn’t overdosed and died, things could have been different. If Abuela hadn’t gotten sick, if he hadn’t joined La Lumbre, if, if, if . . .
There was no point in thinking about it. Unless there was some magical way to go back and change things, this was his life now. Dante was reaping what he’d sowed.
As the anger fizzled into sadness, guilt, and general grumpiness, Dante boarded his bus. Taking a window seat, he leaned against the glass. Thankfully, the air conditioning kept it cool in the burning heat of June. The smooth surface offered some comfort to him as the vehicle made its way along its route. Many people got on and off at each stop, all of them ignored. Eventually, his eyes closed, and the embrace of sleep wrapped around him.
Blinking, Dante took a deep breath, surprised to see the bus had reached the suburbs. It hadn’t felt like he’d been out for that long. He took a moment to study the outside, realizing his exit was still two stops away.
Rubbing a hand over his face, he straightened, stretching his neck, and looked to the left. A young man had taken the seat beside him. He wore a baggy baseball jersey and equally large pants. Tattoos covered his arms, both sides swathed in sleeves. Except for a black teardrop beneath his right eye, the rest of his face was untouched. Even his head was shaved bald.
Stiffening, Dante felt his heart stop. The moisture left his mouth, a ringing in his ears springing to life. “Pete,” he whispered.
Pete grinned, revealing a silver tooth. “You’re a hard guy to find.”
“The state’s still watching me,” Dante breathed.
“Is that why you didn’t reach out when they let you go?”
Dante nodded, but he knew Pete wasn’t fooled. Despite the tattoo they shared—an “L” with the sun rising out of the corner—they were no longer brothers of La Lumbre.
Pete sat straight in his seat, folding his arms and staring forward. “José said that might be the case. He wants to meet up tonight, see how you’re doing.”
Adrenaline and panic fired through Dante’s system. “I can’t,” he muttered. “I have to be at the halfway house in the next half hour, or they’ll lock me up.”
Pete shrugged. “You know we can help you with that, man.” His face turned toward him. “La Lumbrecan make you disappear. The cops will never see your face again.”
Swallowing hard, Dante remained silent. The death threat hung in the air, a promise of what was to come when José got his hands on him.
What were his options here? He could try making a run for it at his stop. Pete was blocking the clear exit, but it could be possible to jump the seat in front of them. However, he couldn’t remember a single instance Pete hadn’t had a gun hidden on him somewhere. If he tried to run, he’d probably get shot before he made it two feet. Making a scene could get the police involved. Pete would probably shoot him before they got there, though. Then again, dying right here and now would probably be better than whatever the gang had planned.
What if he went with Pete? They would have to get off the transit at some point. That could provide an opportunity to escape. When he didn’t show up at the house, they would alert the authorities. Squads would be dispatched to search for him. They could maybe find him if he lived long enough.
Steeling his nerves, Dante decided that was the best route. Life had tried to destroy him many times before. He was a survivor. Tonight would be no different.
As the bus stop came and went, it took all of Dante’s self-control to keep from wigging out. The other passengers left one by one until it was just him, Pete, and the driver. The man behind the wheel wasn’t anyone Dante recognized, but it was evident after a while he was in cahoots with the gang. Either they’d paid him off, or he’d joined in the past eleven years. The vehicle continued out of the suburbs and into the desert, leaving civilization behind.
The sun set, and Dante wondered if it would be the last one he ever saw. It was fitting, knowing he was possibly going to die in the middle of nowhere. It was where his life had ended all those years ago. No doubt, José had a cruel sense of humor when it came to these matters.
Eventually, they turned off the main highway and made their way down a narrow road. After about ten miles, an abandoned and derelict building rose ahead of them. It was at least four stories tall, most of the windows shattered. On the cement side, the words “Dog Track” were painted in large, block letters. There appeared to have been a parking lot at one point, which was now surrounded by a sizeable chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. The pavement had crumpled, leaving generous patches of sand and weeds stretching across it. In the center, a group of cars formed a circle, their lights illuminating several figures.
When the transport pulled through the busted gate and rolled to a stop, Pete stood, pulling a pistol from the waistband of his pants. He pointed it at Dante, motioning for him to follow. “Come on. Let’s get this over with.”
Desperation seized Dante. “You know me, Pete.” He stood. “Hell, you practically raised me. You helped me hook up with a girl for the first time. Taught me how to pop the top off a bottle. Vouched for me with José.”
A laugh broke from Pete, and he jerked his head toward the waiting building. “Yeah. He really screwed me up the ass for it, too. Broke my leg and banged up my car.” The humor faded from his face, replaced with stone-cold hate. “I don’t know you anymore. The Dante I knew never would have done what you did. But it’s all good. Before this night is over, you’re going to be fucking dead, you son of a bitch.”
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Shot Through Time © 2020 Kamery Solomon Books