All or Nothing #1
Ciara Onyx Yengst stumbles on incriminating evidence in her brother’s room and quickly buries it in the river.
She soon discovers even the best intentions can lead to catastrophe, and that for every reckless action there’s an equally devastating reaction.
When mysterious flashdrives show up in her school locker followed by a body in the river, Ciara discovers she’s in over her head, as she tries to outmaneuver the nameless, faceless dealer and his hidden Kingpin.
Terrified and desperate, she turns to the one person she’d love to avoid, Denver Evans, her secret crush, who is somehow involved.
As Ciara and Denver quickly become PIC, they discover there’s more heat between them than just the chase.
Can Ciara survive the dangerous game, rescue her brother, and avoid a broken heart?
Only time will tell.
My name was not important. My life was not important. I was not important, and I could live with being invisible, or so I thought. Being a nobody never bothered me, until I was singled out as a somebody, and that’s when I discovered being known is not always better than being left alone.
My name is Ciara Onyx Yengst. I live in a nondescript town filled with ordinary people, a place I used to think was as dull as the endless supply of number two pencils I hoard in my desk drawer in my room, as I have always been a studious, prepared student. Schoolwork is the one area of my life I can control, at which I excel.
Denver Evans, on the other hand, is another matter. It has puzzled me more than once over the past few years, as I am an analytical person; how a sensible, level-headed, strawberry blonde, freckle-faced girl like me could fall for a boy named Denver, who is as unpredictable and rocky as his first name. I’m still working on that equation, because me liking Denver makes about as much sense as an imaginary number. I don’t know why I think I need him, but I can’t seem to stop. The trouble started the first day we met.
I was twelve and he was thirteen, though I didn’t know his age the day he showed up on my doorstep, dropping his red dirt bike on my lawn, walking over to the hose that still had water dripping from it. I had just finished watering my mom’s flowers. He picked it up and took a few sips before stepping underneath the water, letting it flow down his front. Afterwards he plopped down on the porch step beside me with his clothes soaked to the skin, stirring feelings I didn’t recognize or know what to do with, as he threw his arm casually over his knee, wiped his face on the back of his hand, and smiled up at me with a perfect pair of devastating hazel eyes.
“Hi. I’m Denver.”
He stuck out his hand, dripping with water and sweat, covered in callouses that scratched my palm as he touched it. I was so tongue-tied I could barely get the words out as he held my hand in his. “I’m Ciara.”
He pulled his hand back, and I almost died as I saw there, on the tip of his thumb, was a bit of brownie batter. I glanced down at my hands, shocked to see a bit still on me. He looked at his thumb in question before nipping it with his teeth. He looked back at me. “I’m glad that was chocolate.” I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t stop staring at his thumb. “Got any cards?”
“What?” His voice in my ears was as perfect as the rest of him.
“Playing cards. Do you have any?”
“Yeah.” I’d never been so close to a boy before, at least not one that meant anything, and especially not one this cute. Why was he still talking to me?
“You going to go get them?”
“Oh, sure.” I ran back inside and headed for the game room. My heart raced as I wiped my hands on my shorts. I remember running back through the front door, certain he would be gone, if he had ever been there to begin with, but there he sat, with his dark, curly hair and big green eyes that twinkled just right. We played cards all afternoon, and somewhere in there I got the courage to invite him in for some lemonade and a brownie.
We stood in the kitchen. He laid his plate down on the table before he walked over to me. He was tall for a thirteen-year-old boy, and unlike any boy I’d met before. He took my hand in his and weaved his fingers in between mine. It felt so strange. I didn’t know what to say. The room got really warm, like I was standing too close to a hot oven. I was trying to decide if I wanted my hand back when he leaned in and whispered, as if we were playing a game. “Ciara, have you ever been kissed?”
I shook my head in answer, unable to speak while I stared at the floor, too terrified to look him in the eye.
I felt like someone else as he put his hand under my chin and gently pushed upward. My eyes looked into his and they got stuck there, remaining wide open, until his soft pink lips touched mine. Only then did my eyes close. I could barely breathe as he stepped back, giving me a big toothy grin.
“Now you have.” He winked at me and snagged another brownie. Then he turned around and walked right out my front door, leaving me standing by the kitchen sink, my fingers on my lips, wondering if any of it was real.
And that was the first secret between me and Denver Evans.
* * *
Fast forward to the present. I am now sixteen and the ever-present Denver who never quite leaves my mind or radar is seventeen. My school-girl crush has grown into a case of full-fledged lusting after Denver with his unruly hair and devil-may-care style; having traded his elementary school red dirt bike in for a smokin’ hot black motorcycle that runs on a good day.
He still leaves his bike on our front lawn quite frequently, much to the irritation of my older sister, Char, the nurse, and sole caretaker of our family now that my parents have been gone two years, courtesy of a drunk driver on the highway not even a mile from our home. If Char knows about my crushing on Denver, she’s kind enough to not mention it, just as I don’t mention her crazy on-and-off again thing going with her old high-school boyfriend, Cary, the ex-con turned Sheriff’s best friend who spends every waking moment working in his garage on his totally drool-worthy Super Sport Chevelle.
It’s a good thing Cary has a reliable Ford Ranger to haul his mower down to our house about once a week, a pathetic and contrived excuse to shamelessly peacock shirtless in front of Char, but my brother and I don’t complain, as it’s one less house chore we have to do.
Denver still plays cards at our house quite often, but I’m no longer his partner. He prefers to hang out with my annoying older brother, Crandall, better known as Crash. I imagine it has something to do with the fact that Crash keeps a steady supply of beer in his mini fridge in the apartment above our garage. This would also explain the regular presence of our neighbor down the way, Tom, buyer of said beer who’s over the age of twenty-one, while my brother Crash is not. Tom is a kind of wandering loner who prefers to hide behind a set of headphones. Sometimes I wonder if there’s any sound coming out of them, or if he just likes the barrier between himself and the rest of the world.
Maybe I should buy some headphones, as it would save me from this excruciating group FaceTime conversation I’m enduring at the moment. I’m listening to another disgustingly detailed account of Gabi and Denver’s latest makeout sesh, waiting for someone to mercifully change the subject and bring it to an end. I can’t be the one, as Gabi will most likely set her sights on me, demanding to know why I don’t want to hear all about how Denver is such a good kisser; how his hands are so skilled, and it was sooo hot. I struggle to keep my face blank as she goes on and on. “Ciara.” Gabi’s loud voice pierces my eardrum.
I reorient. “I’m sorry, what?”
“We’re talking about the upcoming Winter formal. Who are you going with?”
I fail to hide my irritation as I answer, sighing. “I don’t know. I mean, school just started. It’s barely been a week.”
Gabi sighs, all dramatic. “I know, but you don’t want to go single again.”
I shrug my shoulders. “It wasn’t so bad.” It was awful and humiliating. I was the only girl in my class without a date, and the only thing that saved the night from being a total disaster was Denver dancing with me on the second to last dance because Gabi was out in the hallway, cornering another unsuspecting victim with accusations of chasing after Denver.
Ari jumps in, saving me. “Sooo, what do you think of the new science teacher, Mr. Marro?”
I smile, getting excited. “I really like him. You can just tell he loves education.”
Gabi rolls her eyes, which I mostly ignore. Magda pops back in the picture, holding a cookie in her oven-mitted hand. “Look guys! I made a cappuccino choc chip sandwich cookie. I can totally smell the coffee.”
Ari answers. “Ooh, coffee! Looks delicious. Well, I’m going to get back to studying for our first English quiz. I’ve got some reading to do.”
Gabi snorts. “You do that. While you’re at it, can you type up a chapter summary and send it to me?”
Magda laughs. “Me, too.”
Ari sticks out her tongue. “That’s a negative.”
Esmee pops up on the screen. “Hey, guys. Sorry I’m late. I was running Diamond down the lane. She gets antsy if I don’t ride her every day.”
Ari smiles into the camera. “Esmee, how was your last rodeo?”
“I did alright. Diamond did the best at the barrels.”
Gabi frowns. “I wonder where Denver is? I’ve texted him like three times in the last thirty minutes but he’s not answering.”
Oh, boy. He’s been over here for forty-two minutes, but who’s counting. I hear footsteps on the stairs and my name being called. Gabi’s eyes narrow. “Is that...”
I hang up the phone, stuff it in a drawer, and almost fall off my bed as I plop down on it as Denver steps into my room. “Hey.” His easy-going manner is nowhere to be found. Something is definitely off, and the air is charged. I don’t want to know, but I have to know. I try to act casual, but it’s a challenge. Mega hot boy is in my room. This has never happened before. I pray my cheeks aren’t flushed. I look up, and he’s staring at me. I cough.
“Denver. What’s up?”
“Were you just talking to Gabi?” Why is he asking me this?
“Not just Gabi.” Why do I feel defensive?
“Did you tell her I was here?” Again, why is he asking me this?
I can’t believe I’m flirting with him about his girlfriend. “She is your girlfriend.”
He gives a shiver. “Don’t remind me.”
I tear my eyes from his face, skimming over his body parts before looking off sideways, recalling the conversation I just heard about his lips, his hands, and other things. I avoid his gaze, muttering, “It’s kind of hard to forget.”
He plops down in my orange fuzzy chair, sits deep in the middle, and spreads his knees wide. He runs his hands through his hair, devastating me. “What’s that?”
I shake my head and look down at the ground. “Nothing.”
He leans forward with his elbows on his knees, pops his head up, and levels me with his beautiful stare. “Ciara?” He could say my name all day long.
I return his gaze, paste on a small smile, and pray it doesn’t reveal my undying devotion. “Yes?”
“Did you tell Gabi I was here?” The boy’s a broken record.
He gives me a frown and what looks like disappointment before answering. “Thanks.” That’s weird. It seems like he wanted me to, but why?
I’m annoyed at my confusion in his tone and my own feelings I’m trying to ignore. “I didn’t do it for you. I did it for Gabi.” And for me. “I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.” I didn’t want to risk her wrath, and there’s something delicious and thrilling about him being here and not telling her, but I’m trying not to think about that now.
He nods his head again, looking distracted. “Of course.”
I search his face, trying to read him, but it’s impossible. “Denver, are you okay?”
He sits in the chair for so still and so long, I think he’ll never answer, as he stares down at his hands. He clears his throat. “Ciara, did you ever tell anyone about the day we met?”
My face heats up and I know I’m blushing, thinking about our kiss, the only one I’ve ever had. “No.”
He gets up and shuts my door and then sits beside me on the bed. His hip rests against mine. “Ciara?”
“Things are going to change soon, and I need you to trust me, and keep your distance.” His eyes look sad, like he might cry, and instinctively I reach for his hand, surprising us both. His eyes meet mine, and he leans in. Unlike last time, I meet him halfway, and for a few minutes, it’s complete madness. By the time I gather my senses, we’re both standing, and I’m plastered to his body. My hands are in his shirt. I pull away from him, scorched through and embarrassed. I may as well have jumped him.
“I’m sorry. I...” My fingertips touch my lips once more, and I’m twelve years old again.
He takes a deep breath, tilts my chin upward, just like before, and our eyes meet. As I look up at him, I hope I’m not the only one drowning in the new awareness between us that wasn’t there before.
“Promise me from here on out, we’re strangers. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
It’s too late for that. I want to ask questions, but I can’t speak. I numbly nod my head as he shoves his hands in his pockets, looking very much like the thirteen-year-old boy from not so long ago, as he gives me a shy grin. “Hey. Don’t forget the first day we met, okay?”
He turns around, shuffles out my door, and closes it quietly behind him as I whisper after him, “How could I?”
My phone’s going off like crazy in my drawer, but I leave it there as I plop back on my bed, shell-shocked and reeling from another encounter with Denver Evans, who remains as hot and mysterious as ever, and the first boy to ever own my heart.
* * *
I spend the next two hours sitting at my windowpane, trying to read an assigned English novel while keeping a steady eye on the garage. Just about the time I think Denver will never leave, he and Crash walk down the steps and Denver gets in the truck with Crash. I ignore all the red flags in my head as I make a beeline for my brother’s apartment, digging through his things like a maniac, not knowing what I’m looking for, and hating myself for practically sniffing the air for traces of Denver, but what was he talking about? What kind of trouble is he in? I know I’ve got it bad when I plop down in the beanbag, imagining Denver was just here, and my hands are resting where his have been, as this beanbag has his scent all over it.
It’s while I’m settling in, leaning this way and that like a deranged cat checking its territory, that I see a misplaced object inside my brother’s bag. If I didn’t know better, I’d say it’s Tom’s signature Walkman, but what’s it doing here?
I don’t want to touch it, but I have to. I feel like I’m invading someone’s personal space as I put the headphones on my ears, ready to satisfy my curiosity about what Tom’s always jamming out to. I kind of envy his carefree walk as he bops along down the sidewalk so freely, oblivious to the curious looks of people passing by.
I push play, but nothing happens. That’s weird. I hit the eject button. I’m stunned to pull out a hollowed-out cassette tape stuffed with little white pills. This isn’t good. I flip the player over with shaking hands and open up the battery compartment, only to find more pills. I drop the tape on the floor, all shook up. I freeze as I hear my brother’s truck pull back into the driveway. I shove the pills in my hoodie pocket before closing the Walkman and stuffing it in the back corner of Crash’s duffel bag. I’m frozen for a few seconds as I hear footsteps on the stairs. I jump up, pace, and talk to myself. “Think, Ciara, think.”
My brother opens the apartment door just as I pop my head up above the fridge. “Oh, hey Crash. I felt like a... beer...” the words feel foreign on my lips as I grab one from the fridge and round the island corner. I head for my brother’s front door with my head down to avoid eye contact.
Crash doesn’t answer, which is not unusual for him. I keep going and open his door to step outside, glancing back at him when I run into a solid body. The familiar scent betrays him, as Denver’s hand covers mine. He takes my beer and brushes my front while smirking down at me; and I wonder if I’m the only one who’s every nerve ending tingles with anticipation.
“Ciara.” He puts the beer to his lips, tilts his head back to take a long swallow before handing it back to me, half-empty. “Thanks.”
I look up at him, remembering his last words to me hours before, as I utter his name like a curse word. “Bye, Evans.”
I run back to my house, frantic, feeling like I’m carrying 100 pounds.
I dig through kitchen drawers and try to make the right decision. The old roll of flamingo-checkered duct tape does it for me, as well as the big Ziplock bag lying on the counter. I grab both before running to my room. I make short work of throwing all the pills in the bag, pushing all the air out of it before sealing it and then wrapping it with endless amounts of duct tape. Satisfied, I shove it back in my hoodie and run outside to my bicycle.
I start down the trail, determined to get to the river before dark. I hop off my bike, run down to the water’s edge in my flip flops, and kick them off at the edge of the rocks. This gives me another idea as I feel a second bag in my pocket. I whip it out and throw the Ziplock inside, before stuffing as many rocks as possible in and sealing the second bag. I pause and pick up a long walking stick to test the waters before wading out into the river current. I search for the deepest part before tossing the bag in. I hope it finds the bottom and lodges itself there to become part of the river, like Denver has managed to do to me.