‘No Matter What’ teaser
With the release of No Matter What approaching fast, we’d like to share the first chapter in hope it whets everyone’s appetite 😉
“I bet she’s got a wooden leg,” chuckled Tooth, poking Ghost’s ribs.
“Or she’s twice the weight of a baby elephant,” added Milk, staring at the fancy Japanese restaurant across the street.
Ghost groaned, so nervous his palms were all sweaty. “I don’t care if she’s fat, or has acne, or whatever. I’m going to marry this girl.”
Tooth rolled his eyes and adjusted Ghost’s suit jacket. “How can you be so sure it’s even a girl? Could be an older lady for all you know. You only saw her eyes on webcam for like, what? Four seconds?”
Milk scowled. “Grandmas don’t play computer games.”
“Well, they do have a lot of time on their hands.” Tooth shrugged and leaned against his bike, menacing as always in his cut and leather pants, long hair in a wild disarray around his handsome face. Even the beard, carefully groomed on a daily basis, seemed a bit shabby after the nine-hour ride from Detroit to New York City.
Ghost took a deep breath, trying to ignore their teasing. He’d known Zara for five years now, and she was The One. She’d been with him when he lost his medical licence, and she’d been with him when he got shot in Syria. It didn’t matter that she lived across the Atlantic. He was in love, and he’d make their relationship tangible, move it to the real world. The carefully chosen ring burned in Ghost’s pocket with the intensity of his anxiety. This was the opportunity he’d been waiting for. Zara was in New York City for only two days. It was her first time in the US, and Ghost was not about to miss his chance to finally touch her dark hair, brush his fingers over caramel-tinted skin. It was as if all the signs on heaven and earth were nudging him to finally make her his.
“You’re just jealous,” Ghost said, and as soon as the light on the crossing turned to green, he started walking toward the restaurant with cramps in his stomach.
“Hey, we’re just trying to give you realistic expectations. You’ve known her for what, five years? And she never agreed to properly video chat?” asked Milk, trailing along with a silly grin.
“And you said she already has a boyfriend,” added Tooth, for the tenth time that day.
Ghost huffed. Zara had one sonovabitch of a boyfriend, who hit her, and used her, and who she was only with because the guy helped her support her ill parents. Zara didn’t need that dick. Ghost would provide for her. Somehow. He’d work it out.
Ghost stopped in front of the restaurant and turned to his friends. He actually hoped Zara wouldn’t see Milk, because the guy’s blond hair was disgusting and greasy today, and Ghost wanted to make a good impression. He’d gotten a grooming session from Tooth’s boyfriend the day before. A close shave, a bit of a cut to the hair that was getting unruly, good cologne, and he’d even let Lucky tidy up his eyebrows. Sure, Zara’d seen him on a webcam, but this first real-life meeting had to leave her wowed.
Ghost pulled out his cell phone and showed them the photo he had set as his wallpaper. “Her boyfriend doesn’t let her video chat. I don’t want her to get in trouble. She’s a babe, and I don’t care how she’s changed since this photo was taken.” If she had. In his heart, Ghost sure hoped she hadn’t. She looked like an extremely sexy tomboy with her shoulder-length black hair, big brown eyes, and slim wrists sticking out from under the rolled-up sleeves of a plaid shirt.
“I sure hope for your sake that she looks at least a bit like that, but if she doesn’t, at least you won’t be hung up on her anymore.” Milk shrugged as they walked up to the entrance. He peeked inside, into the white lobby decorated with tall potted plants.
Ghost’s heart was beating so fast he was afraid it would jump out of his chest any second now. Zara was nowhere to be found. His friends could have been right. Maybe she looked nothing like her photo. But Ghost had sent her a bracelet from Syria, a beautiful thing made out of onyx and leather, with a silver clasp, and she said she always wore it. She told him onyx was her favorite rock, and that she didn’t like her jewelery too fancy, so he went with something he thought would suit her style. He’d picked an onyx engagement ring to match the bracelet, and the unusual choice reflected their relationship.
All Ghost needed to do was have a look around the restaurant and spot the girl with the bracelet he’d sent to the address of Zara’s best friend, in case the boyfriend got wind of something going on behind his back. And then, he’d propose, no matter what hell broke loose. He’d taken Tooth and Milk as backup, because the abusive fucker would probably be with her.
“Let’s go in,” Ghost said.
Milk moaned. “This place looks fancy, I bet it’s expensive. I don’t have that kind of money with another kid on the way.”
Ghost rolled his eyes. “Shut up, I’m paying.”
“Oh, in that case…” Milk was the first one to rush up the few stairs to the restaurant.
“Hey, Milk!” Tooth exhaled, folding his arms across his chest. “Let’s just wait here for now, huh? We don’t want to scare the lady.”
Milk scowled and chewed on his lip. “Fine.”
Tooth raised his eyebrows and gestured at the door, which reflected the bright sunlight. “Go on, or you’re gonna sweat through that shirt.”
Ghost took a deep breath. He’d actually hoped they’d go in with him, but then again, having two members of the Coffin Nails motorcycle club by his side, in their patched leather vest finery, might not be the first impression Ghost wanted to make. With his pale skin, and hair so blond it was almost white, he stood out enough.
Ghost walked up the stairs, imagining the way Zara would look in a wedding dress. If she chose white, it would look amazing against her olive-tinted skin.
If the restaurant was anything to go by, Zara’s boyfriend was loaded to come here for a casual lunch. It was by no means a traditional Japanese interior, but some of the elements, such as a series of wooden panels on one side, evoked the image of a house with movable walls. The ceiling was pitch-black, and along with the reddish brown of some of the artwork, it was the dominant color in the modern yet oddly cozy space.
Ghost sat down at a small empty table next to a divider inspired by a bamboo forest. The tube-like sticks stood tall, like a big modern sculpture, lacquered with shiny black varnish. It parted the large room into two smaller spaces, but it would also allow Ghost to discretely spy on the other patrons through the gaps in the bamboo. It was the weird time between lunch and dinner, and so there weren’t that many people. Ghost was growing frantic as he sought the familiar face.
His eyes briefly paused on the handsome features of a young man sitting in a booth with two middle-aged businessmen, but he quickly followed a twinkle of high-pitched laughs. There was a group of young women chatting over sushi by the window, but as far as he could see, none of them looked anything like Zara. She could have dyed her hair though, that changed a person a lot.
Or she could have lied about being in New York in the first place, whispered a tiny voice in Ghost’s heart. This whole trip would have been for nothing. The new jeans, the suit jacket that was so not him yet his mom insisted on, all for nothing. He ordered a ridiculously expensive juice to pass the time, and fished out his phone. Zara’s boyfriend was so possessive they couldn’t even chat in a normal way and had to communicate by an app for the sci-fi game they both played online. It was where they met as well, so the game evoked tons of fond memories. He logged on, and clicked the avatar of her character, the beautiful mercenary with a talent for computers.
‘Hey, you still in that restaurant?’
She replied within a minute, ‘Yeah, I’m bored out of my mind, LOL. What are U up to?”
Ghost caught himself wanting to tell her about the amazing juice he was having, but instead of uncovering his cards, he needed to get some info out of her about what was on her table. Maybe that would help him figure out where she was. He only got here because she’d given him the link to the restaurant’s menu. ‘I’ve got a free moment. I’m hungry, show me what you’re having at the fancy place.’
He eyed the other side of the divider with his heart in his throat. Why was everyone playing with their phones instead of having real-life conversations? It would make his life so much easier if people would just chat to the other person at their table. He eyed the girls but none of them angled their phone for a perfect photo. The handsome guy chose exactly this moment to, no doubt, instagram his lunch, but Ghost didn’t see anything else. Would he need to stroll through the room and compare plates?
A photo came through. It was a red square plate of some vegetable rolls with a brown sauce. Ghost raised his head to have an even better look around. He frowned at the plate in front of the guy, and had a discreet look at him. He was close enough to see it was a very similar dish, but that could be a coinciden– Ghost’s heart stopped beating completely when an onyx bracelet slid lower down the guy’s forearm.
And then it hit him that the guy actually had a similar coloring to Zara in the picture: dark olive skin, wavy black hair that reached past his shoulders, and dark eyes. Only other than that, he was nothing like Zara. No softness in him, just firm jawlines and broad shoulders hidden in a coffee-colored shirt with rolled-up sleeves. As striking as he was, he was most definitely not the girl from the picture.
Ghost got up even though his legs were like made out of Jell-O. Five years. Five fucking years. This meant he’d had webcam sex with a guy. Many times. He couldn’t breathe, the ring in his pocket somehow burning like acid. How could he have been so stupid? He made his way toward the table as if it were a lucid dream. A nightmare he was about to wake up from.
With the young guy busy with his cell phone, one of the middle-aged businessmen noticed Ghost first. He straightened up and narrowed his eyes, tapping the chopsticks against his plate.
“Can we help you?” he asked in a heavily accented voice.
‘Zara’, or whatever his name was, raised his eyes, and the small smile he was sporting fell from his lips like slush on a sunny day. God, he was even prettier up close, with thick eyebrows and a straight, shapely nose. His mouth dropped open, but he made no sound as he stared at Ghost, wide-eyed.
Ghost ignored the older man, and looked straight into the eyes of someone whom he knew so well, yet didn’t know at all. “How could you do this to me?” was all he managed to choke out.
‘Zara’ dropped his phone on the table, going so pale his sharp cheekbones made him look starved.
The elegant man who’d spoken to Ghost earlier brushed his fingers through his gray hair and crooked his head with a slight frown. “Luca, do you know this man?”
Luca inhaled so sharply it made the shirt cling to his very unladylike chest. “I- I’ll deal with this,” he muttered, grabbing the edge of the table and pushing himself up. He was just as tall as Ghost. Nothing petite or curvy about him. And his voice, oh God. Low, smooth, with a melodic Italian accent.
Ghost gathered his courage, trying to change his desperation into rage, like a real man should. “How the fuck are you going to ‘deal with this’, huh? And you,” he gave the gray-haired man a quick glance, “stay out of it. It’s none of your business.”
A small, oddly wolfish smile crooked the man’s lips, and Luca pushed away from the table, eyeing the other two diners with a half smile that was so stiff Ghost wondered whether his handsome face would fall apart like a cracked mask if Ghost smashed in Luca’s nose.
Luca rushed toward the exit, and Ghost followed, like the naive sheep he was. Like he had for five years. Five wonderful years filled with happiness, grief, pain, exploration, excitement, sadness, but always shared with… this person. This couldn’t be happening.
Luca walked across the corridor, closer to the bathrooms, where they wouldn’t be visible from the restaurant. He stood by a large potted plant, his back against the black wall, dark brown eyes wide but completely focused on Ghost. There was an odd vulnerability in his expression, the luscious mouth plump and open like a girl’s could have been, but one look at the dark shadow of stubble on Luca’s skin killed all of Ghost’s attempts to find Zara in him.
“What are you doing here?” Luca asked in his soft baritone, as if it were his right to ask questions now.
“Who are you?” Ghost hissed, spreading his arms. And why are you so ridiculously handsome I’m getting goose bumps? He didn’t want to make a scene, but his insides were cramping so hard he felt like throwing up.
Luca’s bottom lip was slightly smaller than the upper one, but it was still hard to miss that it quivered. “I’m Zara… we met five years ago on The Age of Endless,” he uttered, looking straight at Ghost. That gaze held so much intensity, as if Luca was trying to imprint the image of Ghost on the back of his brain.
“So the whole crazy boyfriend thing was so you wouldn’t have to show yourself as we video chatted…” Ghost whispered, unable to speak up due to the crack in his heart. When his friends had laughed at him, he’d never really acknowledged a possibility like this.
Luca exhaled and pushed back his long hair with nothing to hide his discomfort. “No. I’d never lie about that. Everything I told you was real, and that’s why you can’t be here. I don’t even have a webcam anymore. It’s been removed from my computer.”
“I’m here because I needed to see you. Find out if you were real.” Ghost shook his head. Of course she wasn’t.
Luca chewed on his lip and hung his head, squeezing his hand around his veiny forearm. “I’m so sorry. I couldn’t stop talking to you once we started. But I told you I’m not single. You shouldn’t have come here.”
“‘Not single’?” Something dark began crawling out from Ghost’s heart, and he started heaving. “You told me your boyfriend was a monster, and that you just want to hide in my arms.”
Luca swallowed hard, pushing his back harder against the wall. His big eyes seemed soft and unfocused. “I did. But I’m not the person you wanted to see, and you won’t hold me like that.” His breath hitched, eyes darting toward the door to the dining room “If I stay too long, he’ll get suspicious.”
What was Ghost to do? He was not ready to let go of this relationship. Luca was Zara, yet he wasn’t. Ghost licked his lips, unable to find the words for what he wanted to express. “So you… don’t want to be with him? He hurts you?”
Luca let out a shuddery exhale, blinking several times. “I can’t leave,” he whispered, pinning Ghost in place with one look of his chocolate gaze. Those long lashes were messing with Ghost’s head.
“Was this all a game for you?” Ghost took a deep breath to fight the itching in his eyes.
Luca stirred. Hesitated. And then his long fingers squeezed the collar of Ghost’s shirt and pulled him closer. Ghost’s mind must have switched off because he couldn’t find the capacity in himself to fight back when his skin brushed against Luca’s stubble. Their lips met, sparking a charge of electricity that went all over Ghost’s body and rang in his ears like a fireworks show.
Ghost stopped breathing. Luca’s body felt so hot against his it was unreal. It took him a few seconds too long to remember they were in a public place. And that Luca wasn’t a girl in any shape or form. He pulled away, still unsure if he knew how to breathe.
“This is not over,” Ghost said, intoxicated by the taste of Luca’s lips. He stumbled to the door and left the restaurant.
The sun was so bright outside he had to squeeze his eyes shut, but before he could go a step further, a strong hand squeezed his shoulder. With his face turned toward the burning hot pavement, he opened his eyes and blinked at the enforcer patch on the front of Milk’s cut.
“Dude, that was gross,” chuckled Milk, shaking Ghost hard.
“Oh, shut up.” Ghost groaned, still unable to comprehend what had happened. “It’s… complicated.” His throat was so tight he could barely speak.
Tooth rested his back against the wall, his thick arms folded across his chest. He shook his head. “Didn’t want to tell you, but I was kinda suspecting she could be a guy.”
“Why, you pretended being a girl online as well? Can you actually get a guy to fuck you this way?” asked Milk. He moved away when Tooth raised his hand to slap him.
Ghost ran his fingers through his hair, looking back to the white corridor, but he couldn’t see Luca anymore. “What do you mean ‘you were suspecting it’? How could anyone expect this?” He couldn’t get those big dark eyes out of his head. They seemed to contain such utter sincerity, such desperation.
Tooth spread his arms. “Come on, why else would ‘Zara’ refuse to skype with you all this time? It’s been five years.”
Milk grinned and playfully shoved Ghost against the wall. “I think you need some bleach to get rid of man-taste. That was brutal!”
Tooth frowned. “You want us to teach that little fuck a lesson?”
“No… I mean… it’s the same person.” Ghost hid his face in his hands, but Milk’s voice was there to pull him back to reality.
“Well, he’s got a dick, so he’s not really the same person. No offense, Tooth, but it’s fucked up for a gay guy to do that to you. Did you show him your junk?” Milk added the question in a whisper.
Tooth bared his gums, as if trying to shut him up by threat alone, but Milk wasn’t a man who understood such subtleties. He laughed and poked Ghost in the ribs. “You did, didn’t you? Oh, my God, a fag jerked off to you!”
“Milk, shut the fuck up,” growled Tooth, looking increasingly annoyed with the stupid jokes. Ghost always wondered how a gay man like Tooth could cope with the amount of homophobia present even in the relatively tolerant Coffin Nails MC.
Milk spread his arms. “Oh, come on, Tooth! Gays are more into dicks than girls, so I would have known if I was chatting to a guy. I bet he’d want to know inches and all that.”
“It wasn’t like that!” Ghost pushed Milk’s chest. It was at moments like this that he regretted that the Coffin Nails guys ended up being his only friends.
Tooth sighed. “He was lying to you for five years. You’ve got to teach him a lesson or he’ll do the same to someone else.”
Ghost took a deep breath and crossed the road on the way to his big white Harley. “You’re right. I know what we need to do. This is not over.”