Cover designer: Okay Creations
Release date: May 1, 2018
Amazon US: https://amzn.to/2Kdnmym
Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/2r1OFDT
Amazon CA: https://amzn.to/2vOEM1r
Amazon AU: https://amzn.to/2KhW75N
As the bus approaches my stop on the Lower East Side, I raise the hood of my black sweatshirt. Anonymity is key in my neighborhood—particularly as a lone female walking at night.
All I want is to leave my crime-ridden shadow of a home in New York City. I’ve done everything I can to keep my head down and focus on my studies. College is my only goal; love has never been on the map…
That is, until my sister brings me to an underground fight, where I meet a gorgeous and mysterious man: Vincent.
He is the ghost in my shadows, showing up to feed me pieces of his upper-crust life, then evaporating into darkness until his next visit. I’m falling hard and fast. How can I trust him amidst the depth of his secrets?
Vincent may be even more dangerous than the dark world I’m trying to escape.
“Carlos is out,” she says in a rush. I look at her face, feeling my stomach sink. She’s playing with the hem of her shirt and glances at me nervously. Finally, her gray-blue eyes bore into mine, and I know that she’s gearing up to tell me some serious shit.
With trembling hands, I put down my coffee mug. “Tell me.”
“Yeah. Well, I heard he made bail—” She stops, clearing her throat. “I also heard that he’s, um, angrier than usual.” She stands, bringing the rest of the carafe of coffee to the table and pouring more into my cup.
I lick my dry lips. “What do you mean?”
She moves to the edge of her seat, pushing sugar my way. “Well, I was on the stoop yesterday. It was my day off. I was hanging out with everyone and listening to Mr. Samson talk about a new jazz club that recently opened up in Harlem. We were all getting high with someone’s hash, shooting the shit—”
“And?” I raise my eyebrows, waiting for her to get to the point.
“Juan came over, and sat with me.” She slightly shifts her head to the side and presses her lips together. “Well, he told me that Carlos is out now. And, he’s been talking shit all over town that he and you have some unfinished business. Juan wanted to tell me because he’s scared for you. I know he’s an annoying little shit, but after he heard…” her voice trails off.
I blink once, twice, three times.
“There’s more,” she says on an exhale. “Apparently, he hooked up with some girl last night. Beat the shit out of her. Ms. Santini from Three-A was on her way to work and stopped to drop off her trash by the dumpsters. Apparently, she heard a moaning sound. When she saw the girl, her clothes were torn. She was beaten up and started bawling about Carlos…”
My head gets dizzy, but I force myself to hear every detail. “An ambulance took her away, but she was in pretty bad shape.”
I want to ask more questions, but the terror has a clamp on my throat.
“I think you need to stay close to me for a while, okay? The Snakes are getting more aggressive. They want the Blue Houses as their own territory, and it looks like they’re trying to instill some bigger fear on the streets.” She drops her gaze. I know she’s afraid. Every girl in the Blue Houses probably heard the story by now.
“Yeah. Okay. I’ll make sure Angelo knows I need to leave before it gets dark out.”
“Good idea. We need to sync our schedules so you aren’t walking alone at night. I’m gonna talk to some other people and try to get their schedules down so that everyone has a buddy or something at night. I’m sure when everyone hears about this, we won’t be the only ones who are scared.” I nod my head and stand up mechanically, rinsing my mug and walking to my room to digest the new information. After grabbing my stuff, I check my purse to make sure that my gun is still inside. I lock myself in the bathroom and load and unload the gun a few times, reacquainting myself with the weapon. If Carlos comes, I’ll be ready for him.
Getting to work, I let Angelo know the details of what’s new with Carlos. He’s angry and continues to tell me that I shouldn’t be so stubborn and I need to let the Borignones get involved. But I refuse. I still don’t want any debts to my name. I’ve made it this far, and I believe I can wait it out a little longer.
Work passes in a blur. I’m convincing a girl to sell her diamond ring while Angelo sells the two violins and a Cartier watch to an elderly couple who want to buy something for their grandchildren.
When the day is done, Angelo insists on calling a car to take me home. I sigh deeply, knowing that the driver will be one of Angelo’s associates. But considering the fact that Carlos is out of jail, I’m not going to complain. I nod my head and take his ride in the name of safety.
I get in the huge black Escalade and see a massive man sitting in the driver’s seat. Swallowing hard, I remind myself that he’s not an enemy, but on my side. He drives me right up to my building and I gingerly walk out, my shaking hand inside my purse, gripping my gun. I’m scared as hell, but it makes me feel a modicum of control. The driver enters the building with me and steps into the elevator as well.
We reach the fourth floor when I tell him he can go. “I can get into my apartment fine now.” He nods his head wordlessly and re-calls the elevator to bring him back downstairs.
I get up to my door without incident and let out the breath I was holding while I pry my fingers off my gun. “I’m okay,” I say out loud, turning my head and letting my gaze run up and down my hallway. It’s empty. I pull out my key and step forward onto my threadbare Welcome mat when I feel like I’ve kicked something. I look down, confused at what’s on the floor. It must be Janelle’s sweater that she dropped on her way out. I bend down to pick it up and freeze.
Level Me Up (Gamer Boy #1) by Lauren Helms was an enjoyable read. It was my first book by this author and I enjoyed the realistic approach in this romance. The story really could happen like this (well maybe except one plot string towards the end). I have visited several convention myself (unfortunately not this one yet) so I know how it feels and I liked the way the author transferred that feeling to the reader.