Caldwell Brothers 4
Copyright © MJ Fields and Chelsea Camaron 2017
This book and its contents are the copyrighted property of the author, and may not be reproduced, copied, and distributed for commercial or non-commercial purposes.
This book contains mature content not suitable for those under the age of 18. Content involves strong language and sexual situations. All parties portrayed in sexual situation are over the age of 18. All characters are a work of fiction.
New York Times Bestselling author, Tatum Longley, is being forced out of her comfort zone. Her publisher needs her to change from hard-hitting nonfiction to romance.
But first, she must find a muse.
Angelo has no desire to form relationships, when a very persistent Tatum makes him an offer that nearly knocks this six-foot-five, long-haired, tattooed, dangerous-looking man on his ass.
Will he be able to resist the temptation? Or will he allow her to use him?
*** This is a full-length, standalone romance. Although a spinoff book from the Caldwell Brothers Series, it is not necessary to read any other books before this one, though it is recommended. ***
I look around the gym. The walls are black and mirrored, the floor is black cement covered in red mats. The back wall, where all our daily equipment is stored, is covered floor to ceiling in black lockers. Hand wraps, gloves, medicine balls, headgear, nut cups, first-aid equipment, and clothing that have our logo on them.
Our logo. I am a part of something. There was a time in the not so distant past when I wasn’t sure I would ever be anything. There are still days I couldn’t give a shit less if I do.
To the left are sparring mats and a few pieces of cardio equipment. To the right are free weights, a few high-end weight training machines, five heavy bags, seven speed bags, and five timing bags. In the middle is where I prefer to spend my time and energy. The cage.
I look at the large clock hanging above the doorway to our office. Nine-thirty at night. That means I have been here for thirteen and a half hours.
Eight hours would send a normal man my age running home to his family, to a hot meal, or to a bar where he could have a drink and relax with his friends. I am not a normal man.
Normal men don’t have blood on their hands, and if they do, they have it with remorse in their hearts, or the blood came from fighting a greater cause. The blood on my hands came from an anger that took control, from the rage within me, a rage that still controls me.
“Put one foot in front of the other. Stand tall and proud. Make the decision that you are both of those things and never let them think any differently. You are a good man, a good kid. Your past doesn’t define you; your present and future do.”
Shaw, my father’s oldest and closest friend, words ring inside my head as I look at the picture of him, Jagger, and I hanging on the wall, illuminated by bright white up-lighting.
If only putting one foot in front of the other wasn’t so hard. The weight of the world is heavy on my neck, making holding my head high almost impossible.
Shaw believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. Now Shaw is gone.
After killing the lights and locking the doors, I let out a breath and walk toward the door in the back left-hand corner of the gym that leads to my apartment upstairs.
I stand in the apartment above Legacy, a gym that Jagger Caldwell and I inherited. A gym that trains people like me. It was willed to us when Shaw’s fight with cancer ended.
I suppose he did it to make sure his promise to his best friend, my father, was kept. He made sure I had something, an income, a place to live—a piece of something tangible while I served out my parole sentence for a crime I committed eight years ago.
Honestly, it feels more like a curse, a cage, a confined space, than a new beginning.
My body aches. It’s bruised and sore, all feelings I not only accept, but embrace. The harder I push myself, the more men I get in the cage with to train, the more hits I take, the closer I get to controlling the fury that simmers just beneath a boiling point inside my soul.
I walk to the bathroom and stand in front of the distressed mirror above the small sink that is rust-stained from the constant drip of a faucet that I keep telling myself I will fix, but I have no intention or desire to do so.
I strip off my sweat-drenched clothes and turn toward the shower to start the water. It takes a good five minutes for it to heat enough for my liking, and while I wait, I brush my teeth and open the cabinet.
I stare at the last bottle of pain meds prescribed to Shaw. I pocketed them after he died when the rage became worse. It is a battle of wills to tame the beast inside me. Waking up and looking in the mirror, knowing what I did and why I did it.
I twist off the childproof cap and count as I dump the pills out into my hand. Twelve. I have twelve nights left to sleep, and then the nightmares will ensue. I make a mental note to space the pills out to every third day. I can do without sleep for that long, no more.
I let them fall one by one back into the bottle, except one, as I feel my exhausted body become tense again. Anxiety is starting to creep in, so I take the last pill in my hand, toss it in my mouth, and swallow it down.
Before the pill’s effects kick in, I get in the small shower and bend so the water falls over my head instead of hitting the middle of my shoulders. When the water starts to run cold and I feel a bit drowsy, I step out, towel my hair lightly, and then drop it to the floor, allowing my body to air dry. Then I look up at my reflection and see a man who looks much older than his twenty-five years.
My eyes, once bright green and alive, are now dead and unreflective of feeling. My hair, once cut close to my scalp by my father’s own hand, is now well past my shoulders and a mess of brown waves. It’s only down after a shower or bedtime; otherwise, it is always tied up in a knot on the back of my head. I don’t have any damn desire to go to the barber. That would mean I would have to talk to someone. I’m functioning just fine here without making those types of connections, and there is no appeal in changing that up.
I run my hand over my beard. It’s been three days since I last groomed. I shave every fourth or fifth day, but never down to the skin.
I am six-foot, five-inches of intimidation. I weigh in at two hundred and forty-eight pounds of muscle, and my skin is covered in black prison ink. I have no desire for anyone to look at me and become confused as to who I am. No desire to have someone look at me and want to know more about me, or who I was. I have no desire for anything but the occasional release I can get anywhere. All I have to do is force a smile and say a word or two in order to get that need met.
My appearance is intimidating. It keeps people away. I’m not trying to give off the illusion that I’m unapproachable. Illusion would imply it wasn’t real.
It is real.
I am Michelangelo Mazzini. I was once called a saint by my peers, my teachers, and anyone who knew me.
Now I am known as Kid.
I lay on the king-sized mattress that sits in the middle of the floor and stare at the ceiling, waiting, waiting, waiting for sleep to take me. The numbness that is my life isn’t holding me back. Rather, it’s my mind that won’t turn off, waiting for the next move.
I try not to close my eyes on my own. I wait for exhaustion and the drugs to do the work for me. Otherwise, I will be fighting a losing battle.
“Tatum, this is not what’s selling anymore. We need something …” Melanie pauses as she sighs.
Melanie and I have been friends since I sat next to her in a Shakespearian literature class we both enrolled in as an elective while attending Columbia for our Masters’ programs. Hers was in the classics; mine was in religion and journalism.
She loved fiction,a story you could get lost in, and I loved nonfiction, a story that didn’t allow you to run from your boring life, but showed you a life that you could get lost in and know it was real. Fairy tales were never meant to be believed in. They are stories written to scare children into behaving or else, so why waste time on them? Show them how to cope, what to avoid, and maybe a story that inspires them to do the right thing of their own accord.
She is the yin to my yang, the spring to my fall, the day to my night. The point is, she’s the lost-in-her-head kind of daydreaming chick, whereas I am the one who wants to get lost in reality to avoid getting lost in my head, and worse yet, believing that shit is even possible.
I am sure she has no other writers like me on staff. I am sure of this because one night, over drinks at Hotel Empire, she told me so. She told me in the sweetest way she could that I was my own worst enemy. That I had talent in abundance and was just too stubborn for my own good, and that if I were anyone other than “the Tatum” that played her Romeo a couple years ago, gaining us both an A in that godforsaken class, she would have walked away a long time ago.
We are opposites in our views on life, but who we are on the inside isn’t much different from the other. Both of us left our hometowns, knowing we were destined for greater things. And unlike most, we are willing to work our asses off to become. It landed us both in New York City, a city where we knew no one and no one knew us. A city that I swear wants to eat up young girls’ dreams and spit them back in your face.
Nothing about here is easy. What it is, though, is real. It’s gritty, it’s hard, and it’s all-consuming. If you can live here, you can live anywhere. Mark my words.
I know she could walk away at any moment, but Melanie would never. Even if she should run and not look back, that’s not who she is. It’s not who we are together.
We are forever friends, through thick and thin. The type of friends who you could talk to once every six months and pick up right where you left off. Though, in reality, we may go weeks without speaking due to work, but we have never gone more than a month at the most. She is my soul sister, and I am hers.
A few years ago, Melanie took an internship at a mid-sized literary agency, and I took off to write a story that would rock the world. I gave her, A View from Home, a novel about the foster care system in our country, and she went over the head of the man she worked for who said, “It wasn’t good enough” and emailed it to a company contact at Random House Publishing, where they not only bought the book, but hired her that day.
She became a junior editor at Random House, and I became a novelist. She became a senior editor when my first book put me on the New York Times Bestseller list. The subsequent three novels hit the list as well. Acclaimed awards, Wall Street Journal, and we were both riding a high of dreams coming true.
I can hear as she taps her long fingernails on her glass top desk, and then I hear the bell go off inside her head.
“I’m giving you raw. I’m giving you real. I am giving you what people go through every day,” I tell her, trying to keep my annoyance at bay. After all, she is trying to help me.
“The market has shifted, Tatum. What’s selling is not this.”
I hear a thud and am certain it’s the manuscript I sent her. She prefers e-mail; I don’t.
“Then I’ll self-publish,” I threaten, and she audibly hisses into the phone, saying nothing.
This is new territory for us both. I love Melanie. I love working with her. Unlike the horror stories I hear about publishers washing out an author’s voice in edits, she doesn’t do that to my work.
“You still there?” I ask.
“I am,” she says firmly then pauses. I hear a door shut, then her heels click across the floor before she sighs out, “Please, Tatum. Please give me something that will blow the roof off this place. I know you have it in you. I know you do. Just let it happen.”
“Do you need this, Melanie?” I ask, wondering why she suddenly wants to mold my work into a completely different realm than I have ever written.
“Yes. Yes, I do. We both do.”
I sigh, feeling the weight of her world and my own landing firmly on my shoulders. “Okay, give me two months.”
“One,” she says, her edge returning.
“You have to push, don’t you?” I half-laugh.
“You taught me how,” she returns with a smile in her voice.
“Talk later.” I start to end the call.
“Wait! It has to be hot, Tatum. I need your voice, but bring the damn heat.”
“You’re gonna need to put yourself out there.”
“Meaning?” I have no idea why I ask when I know damn well what she is getting at.
“When’s the last time you actually got your peach plucked?”
“That’s none of your business,” I say with no intention of answering her, especially when she uses words like “peach plucked.” That’s up there with “moist” in words I would rather not use or hear reference to in sexual situations.
“You need to go find yourself a sexy, suit-wearing mogul,” she suggests.
“I’m in Detroit, Mel.” I sigh. “Remember, I was going to show the times in Motor City. A whole look back and look forward.”
I hear her nails tapping her keyboard. I know damn well she’s googling where to find the perfect place for inspiration.
“Get your ass to Texas.”
“I’m here for a month.” I stand with my phone in my hand, looking out the hotel window at what I know from pictures was once a beautiful city.
The river is mucky, the boats decrepit, and the cracked sidewalks once were beautiful. Detroit was something a long time ago.
“Right,” she sighs. “You can’t change your plans for the eye candy and your best friend?”
I laugh. “Melanie, this is all set up. Money spent, timelines sorted. I’m willing to think outside the box and shift my focus, but I can’t uproot my plans and still feel like I’m not insane.”
“Okay, okay,” she concedes.
“Goodnight, Tatum,” she says with a softness in her tone that is without a doubt caused by the stress I just alleviated.
Hers is gone, and mine has returned. Yin and yang. Night and day. We are never on the same page, but the balance is and always has been there.
I sit down on the chair next to the small table by the window, grab the glass of sweet red wine I had just poured, and take a drink. It’s sweet, crisp and, God willing, it will help me sleep tonight.
I drink the entire glass, and then pour another before reaching across the table to grab the manila folder and drag it closer to me. I look through the pictures from the 1950s: the new buildings, the finely-dressed people on the streets, the cars. The streets were full of them, all shiny and new. Detroit used to be spectacular. I know it was; the proof is in the pictures. But it is not anymore.
All that glitters does not always remain gold.
All that once was beautiful doesn’t remain so.
All that was lost will not necessarily be found.
Time does not stand still.
I stand up and stretch my neck as I walk over and grab my laptop, carrying it back to the table and opening it up. Then I click on the new document and title it:Mommy Porn.
“To new beginnings,” I toast the air then take a sip.
There is a saying in the writing industry: “write drunk and edit sober.” I guess I will give it a try tonight.
Sweet Jesus, am I really going to do this?
For Melanie, I will.