Forged in Fire

By: Juliette Cross

Chapter One

I glimpsed my reflection in the mirror-backed elevator. Long legs in dark blue skinny jeans, red top that fit a little too well, and straightened black hair falling to the middle of my back. Along with Mindy’s Ferrari-red lipstick, I looked…

“Smokin’ hot. You’ve got some serious junk in the trunk too.”

“Shut. Up.”

I glared in the mirror at my best friend, her perfect blonde self beaming at me with a syrupy-sweet smile.

“Seriously, I will wipe that smirk off your face.”

“Oh, come on, Gen. You look amazing, and you know it. I wish I had half your curves. Don’t be so grumpy. Tonight, I want you to relax. Nothing else to worry about. Just have fun.”

I glanced down at her baby blues pleading with me to loosen up.

“Nothing to worry about. Fun. Got it.” I smiled.

“Awesome. Now let’s go celebrate!”

We were total opposites in just about every way. She was petite, slender and tan. I had inherited my height and dark hair from my dad. But my milk-pale skin and ice-blue eyes came from my mother.

“Stop brooding,” muttered Mindy.

“I’m not.”

Right before the elevator doors opened, Mindy shifted and glanced sideways under long lashes. A telltale sign of guilt I recognized from our long friendship.

“What, Mindy? What did you do?”

“Nothing,” she protested too innocently. “I forgot to mention that Steven is coming with us.”

The elevator dinged. The door opened.

“You did not set me up on a date tonight,” I grated out.

“No, I promise! Not a date. He just wanted to come along. As a friend. That’s all.”

I eyed her with suspicion. “Whatever. But, I am not on a date. This is my night, remember?”

“Yes! Of course! Your night.”

She hooked her arm through mine as we entered the lobby of her mother’s upscale New Orleans condo. I was still surprised by what an unemployed divorcee could afford, but then I glanced at Mindy. She was a perfect miniature of her mother. An endless stream of wealthy men in this city were willing to bestow treasures on attractive, charming women. I kept hoping Mindy would choose more wisely. Sadly, she had the same sort of taste in men as her mother.

We waltzed into the lobby, arm in arm, clip-clopping across white marble to a set of gold brocade sofas. Her boyfriend, Dazzling Dave, jumped up along with his buddy, Slippery Steve.

“Ladies, ladies. You two look divine.”

Seriously? I wish Mindy would find a new boyfriend and fast. His lines were nauseating. He gave us his signature smile, beaming his super-straight and over-bleached teeth.

“Hi, David,” she gushed, instantly gluing herself to his side.

Steven stepped up, eyeing me from top to toe. “Hello, Gen. You look awesome. Ready to celebrate?”

“Hey, Steven. Thanks. Ready as I’ll ever be.”

I tried not to grind my teeth as we pushed through the glass doors into the night. I wanted to stay angry at Mindy for dragging Steven along. She knew that our failed blind date nearly a month ago still had me on edge every time someone mentioned going to the movies. Seriously, I didn’t realize that watching a Will Ferrell comedy in the dark was a contact sport—not until I went out with Slippery Steve.

The ride downtown in David’s convertible definitely lightened my mood. Cool night air hinted at autumn. Canal Street buzzed with life. Neon lights blazed from one end to the other, highlighting everything from liquor stores to Commander’s Palace. Partygoers laughed, sauntered, and half stumbled along the sidewalks. The din of honking horns chorused energy and life. Rather than turn left toward the French Quarter where the buzz became downright noisy, we hung a right. I had no idea where we were going. Mindy had kept it all hush-hush, wanting to surprise me.

The New Orleans business district bustled during the daytime, but now the streets were near empty. All the shops and offices stood dark and closed. Apparently something was still open or Mindy wouldn’t have dragged us down here. David parallel parked on a side street, folding the top up with a click on the dash.

“Let’s go, ladies.”

“Come on, Gen!” Mindy squealed as she scooted out.

I smoothed down my hair, unable to keep from laughing at her enthusiasm. “I take it you’re excited?”

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