Promise Me Always

By: Rhonda Shaw

Acknowledgements



Many thanks to Diana Gardin for her support and belief in Promise Me Always, and for loving Danny and Gabrielle’s story as much as I do. Promise Me Always wouldn’t be what it is today without her invaluable support and guidance.





Prologue


~ Danny ~

Six Years Earlier





I walked along the deserted streets, riding the shadows to remain unseen, the white puffs of my breath against the black night the only sign of my presence. My mind raced, the constant whirling making me sick. But I had no answer. The expectations of me tonight were clear, but there was no way I could go through with it.

Refusal meant death, but conformity guaranteed a life sentence. If I ever wanted a chance at having a life—to be someone outside of this godforsaken place—I needed to walk away. But, my ticket to freedom wasn’t there yet, and if I backed out now, I would have to look over my shoulder, more than I already did, until that day came—if they even let me live through the night.

No matter what I did, I was fucked. Everyone expected me to take this path, so why the hell not? Acceptance provided the family—the belonging—I never had, even if it wasn’t the family I’d dreamed of.

But this wasn’t what I believed in. There was no trust, no security, no unconditional love in this family. Only constant fear, distrust, and death.

Always death.

At the end of the sidewalk, I paused. A trail of sweat rolled down my back and my heartbeat jackhammered in my ears. My fate waited for me in the alley and I had to decide.

It was now or never.

The choice I made in this moment would forever follow me. It would decide my success or failure. It would determine whether I escaped this hellhole of a life or remained imprisoned.

It would define me.

I took a deep breath and rolled my shoulders before pulling the hood of my black sweatshirt over my head. Even though my insides twisted and turned, I refused to let anyone see that. I’d remain calm and composed, like always. The heavy weight of my piece stuffed in the waistband at the small of my back provided a boost of confidence, but, decision made, I prayed I didn’t need it.

With all emotion wiped from my face, I continued forward, my muffled footsteps announcing my arrival. A small group, hovering around a prone body sprawled on the ground, turned at my approach. Terrell, the leader of this sorry ass gang, broke away and sauntered toward me.

“Hey, my man, D.” Terrell slapped my hand in greeting, along with a one-armed hug. “It’s about time your ass got here. We’re all freezing our balls off waitin’ on you.”

“Sorry, man. I got held up.”

“No problem, dawg. No problem.”

The circle opened, providing me an unobstructed view of the body they’d been surrounding. He shuddered from the beating he’d received, and a dark hand reached in to roll him over before pressing on his head, exposing the small black cobra tattooed on the side of his neck, the sign of the rival gang in the area.

“You know what you need to do.”

I swallowed hard. “Terrell—”

“No excuses, D. If you want to be a part of this family, then you know what you gotta do. How you gotta earn our trust.” He stood to his full height and narrowed his eyes. “And if you don’t, then you know what happens.”

I took a sharp breath through my nose and pulled out my gun, releasing the safety as the bystanders nearby stepped back. I aimed at his head, averting my gaze from the dark eyes staring at me, daring me to shoot.

“Fuck you,” the guy spat.

“Come on, man. What you waitin’ for?” Terrell said from my side. “He wouldn’t have waited to pull the trigger on you. He don’t deserve you thinkin’ about him, D.”

I closed my eyes, fighting to ignore everyone and everything around me, and strained to hear the voice over the noise invading my mind, the one to guide me to the right choice and get me the fuck out of this. But I was lost, so lost, and had no idea what to do. When a hand gripped mine, intending to squeeze the trigger, the answer became clear. Anger replaced any confusion that had been clouding my thoughts.

My heart leapt into my throat, and I spun in the opposite direction at the last second, as the gun went off, firing into the corner and causing our audience to scatter in cover.