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Lift by Alexa Riley (1)

Chapter One

Sloan

As I stretch, I roll onto my side and feel myself begin to fall. I slide over the edge of sofa and catch myself just before I face plant onto the polished wood floor. If there’s one thing I miss about my old life it’s a bed. It’s sad because I should miss my parents but I’ll never see either of them again unless it’s on the news.

I sit up on the floor and sigh. I keep falling off the couch and I’m pretty sure my luck will run out and I’ll end up with a bloody nose. But it won’t be anything compared to the way my life has fallen apart.

The feds stormed our penthouse high-rise and took my mother just as the door on my father’s cell slammed shut. Everything about my dad was a sham. He was one of the biggest frauds of all time and I’ve heard whispers of a movie being made about it. Yippie for me. Reporters will come climbing out of the woodwork to find me and ask me questions. They’ll be disappointed to find out I knew nothing.

I wasn't shocked by the news because I knew from a very young age that even if you wore a fancy suit you could still be a criminal. You're just a thug that knows how to dress well. If you ask me that’s scarier than how easily my father could slip into one person then another. I’m still not sure who he really is.

Luckily neither parent wanted me around much. If I had to guess I’d been a mistake but I never asked. It was clear my parents might have been in love at one point but were really only together in the end because it benefited the both of them.

The local boarding school was a dream for all of us even if I hated the place. At least there I felt I was left alone for the most part. I played the part while I was there and did all the things that would make me fit in. I never truly felt like I belonged, so maybe I’m more like my father than I realize.

When my parents were arrested, I had everything pulled out from under me and I was left standing there alone. I’d always thought of myself as a loner, but it wasn't until everyone was really gone that I began to understand the reality of what that truly meant. Even if I wasn't close to my parents, they were a safety net. A boarding school wasn’t a place you could stay if there was no one paying the bill.

I saw parents who were close with their children, but I saw a large majority that were like mine. I didn't know which way was normal but I was glad that I wasn’t close to mine when all was said and done. Maybe it made it easier to pick up the pieces they left behind, but considering I’m still doing it, what do I know.

I rub the sleep out of my eyes knowing it’s going to be a long day. I worked late, but every time I tried to call it a night my alert would go off letting me know someone else needed a ride. To me each ride meant more money. I knew I shouldn’t be picking up people so late in the area I was at, but it’s hard to turn down the money when I need it. The one thing I never realized was how much it cost to live.

I was put into the state’s foster system for six months until my eighteenth birthday. There was nothing left from my family and all their assets has been frozen. The government kept it to try and pay back whatever damage my father had done.

No one would take me in because I’d become Nicholas Martinez’s tainted daughter. Most of the friends I had were gone since their parents told them to have nothing to do with me. Others had gone on with their lives when they left to go to college. I got lucky when my one friend, Cara, had taken me in. She let me crash on her sofa and use her car, which was my only way of making a living. We’d never been close in school, but when I ran into her and she made the offer I couldn’t turn it down. I’d just gotten let go from the foster system and had no idea what I was going to do next. All those years at a fancy private school didn’t prepare me for poverty.

Cara and I made a deal when I moved in. I agreed to do her college homework and she takes a part of my earnings each night. In exchange I get to sleep on her couch and use her car for free. What choice do I have? I’m trying to get enough money together to get my own place, but that would leave me without a car. I get it. Thankfully she doesn't need her car and she’s on break from school. But at the rate I’m going, I’ll never be able to get out from under myself.

It’s like quicksand; the harder I try to fight my way out, the faster I sink. It doesn’t help that I’m pretty sure Cara is charging me for using her car because she wants the cash. I think she’s putting it up her nose since her dealer doesn’t take daddy's credit card. What can I really say though? I have no choice now that my life rests in the hands of a cokehead.

“You’ve been worse places,” I remind myself as I drag my ass back up onto the sofa.

Cara comes stumbling into the house and I glance over at the clock to make sure I read it right. She should still be asleep, but here she is with messy blonde hair, smudged makeup, and her designer shoes in hand. She looks like a rail-thin mess. She’s using something, but we aren’t close enough for me to ask. Nor do I want to poke at the person who’s keeping a roof over my head and a job in my hands.

“Hey,” I say as I clear my throat.

“Don’t judge me; at least I’m getting laid.” She stomps past me to her room and slams the door behind her.

What the hell was that? I sigh as I get up to close the front door she’s left wide open. I need to get out of here before she wakes up from her nap. She’ll just get up and begin whatever she did last night all over again.

When I try to close the door, a hand slaps against it to keep it from moving. I look up at Lance, Cara’s older brother. God, I don’t think I’ve seen him since he graduated. He was a few years older than us and had gone off to college after I started. All of the freshman in my class were happy to see him go. He was a cocky jerk who bullied everyone. Sadly, most of the other boys ended up doing the same thing when we got older. It’s crazy how people can turn into the person they hate, but I’ve made a promise to myself that I won’t turn out the same.

“Sloan?” he says as he looks down at me. He probably only remembers my name because my parents got arrested and not because he remembers the scrawny ninth grader he used to call ‘chicken legs.’ “You sure grew up.” His eyes move all over me and I have to fight not to fidget.

“Thanks,” I respond, because I don’t know what else to say to his comment. It’s not like I can return it because there’s nothing nice to be said about Lance. “Cara’s asleep,” I tell him, hoping he’ll leave and come back later. Later being while I’m gone.

“Yeah, I thought I saw her doing the walk of shame.” He pushes past me, letting himself in.

I jump back so his body doesn't touch mine and I reluctantly close the door. He isn’t going anywhere and I can’t kick him out. Lance plops down onto the sofa and makes himself at home on my bed. I glance to the bag he dropped on his way in and I notice it’s bigger than a backpack. I pray that it’s not what I think it is. I’d honestly forgotten about Cara’s brother and she never brings him up. He can’t be here to stay, and why would he want to? I’m sure he can afford a hotel or something, and he and Cara aren’t close.

Cara’s place is nice and somewhat roomy for being in the city, but there’s no way three people could stay here. On top of that I’m pretty sure Cara’s parents wouldn’t be happy if they knew the arrangement she and I made. They were likely on the list of parents who told their kids to stay away from me. My father might have stolen millions from them, too, for all I know. I tried to stay as far away from that circle as I could, but here I am right in the middle of things.

Cara comes out of her room a few moments later. She looks like she cleaned herself up a little, but once she realizes her brother is on the couch she begins to scowl again.

“What are you doing here?” she asks him while making herself some coffee. She must be skipping the nap. I eye her, noticing she has more perk to her step then she had a few minutes ago. “You’re supposed to stay with the parents,” she reminds him.

“They’re having the fucking floors redone. They forgot about winter break.”

Cara rolls her eyes, not shocked. “What about a hotel?” she clips, and it looks like she doesn’t want him here either. I lived with boys when I was in the foster system and it’s not something I ever want to do again.

“Come on. It’s only a few days.” He says it with a teasing smile as he ignores her not-so-subtle hints.

“Fine, take the guest room. It’s a mess, so you’ll have to clean it.” She places her hands on her hips as if ready to have it out with him. They might be mad at each other, but still there is this underlying love. I can see it in the way they look at one another. “Just two nights.”

Maybe I could sleep in the car for those two nights. There’s something about Lance that always rubbed me the wrong way.

“We’ll see how long the floors take,” Lance says before he turns his head to wink at me.

He better not try and take the sofa. Cara does have a second bedroom, but it’s so small it freaks me out. I’d only been in foster care for six months, but it ruined me with tight spaces.

“And leave her alone,” Cara snaps at Lance.

“Mom and Dad know she’s here?” he throws back at her. Oh fuck, he’s going to get me kicked out of here.

“Don’t play that game with me, Lance. I know where your bodies are buried. Hasn’t that fancy college you’re about to graduate from taught you anything? Never go into a battle you know you’re going to lose.” She gives him a hard look and he doesn’t say anything else to her. She must have some good shit on him.

Cara takes her coffee and goes back to her room, leaving me alone with her brother.

“So, you have plans today?” he asks.

“I’ve got work, which means I need to get a move on.”

I grab my bag and go to the bathroom. I’m still debating if I should sleep in the car tonight. I yawn, knowing I’m going to have to think about it later. I already see my work app coming to life with people needing rides all around me. There isn’t any time to get ready.

I change quickly before going to the living room and dropping my bag in the corner. Lance watches me the whole time and it makes my skin crawl. I’ve learned to trust my instincts because from what I’ve been through, I know there are predators everywhere.

“I’m out,” I tell him, and Lance looks me over like I’m crazy.

I’m in jeans and a loose-fitting sweatshirt. I even put my hair up into a hat, trying to look more like a boy. It’s easier that way with some of the crazies I’ve given rides.

“Like that?” He raises an eyebrow at me in judgment.

How he manages to check me out while also looking at me like I’m a slob, I have no idea, but he manages to pull it off. I wonder if he learned that at his fancy college.

“Trust me, where I’m going no one cares what I’m wearing,” I tell him as I open the front door.

“You heard from your mother?” His question jolts me. I thought I’d grown used to it by now, but still the mention of my mother always does that to me.

“No,” I tell him before shutting the door behind me. “She doesn’t care about me anymore,” I mutter to myself as I head out into the cold.

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