"Here, take this." Hector pulls a pistol out from under his car seat. "El policia confiscated yours."

I hesitate, remembering when the police asked me if I had any weapons on me. Dios mio, it was humiliating having a gun pointed at my chest as they removed the Glock. But refusing Hector's gun would be considered disrespectful, and I'd never dis Hector. I take the gun and stick it in the waistband of my jeans.

"I heard you've been asking questions about your papa. My advice is to let it go, Alex."

"I can't. You know that."

"Well, if you find anything out, let me know. I always have your back."

"I know. Thanks, man."

It's quiet in the house. I walk into my bedroom, where both of my brothers are sleeping. Opening my top drawer, I bury the gun under the wooden board where nobody can accidentally find it. It's a trick Paco taught me. I lie on my bed and cover my eyes with my forearm, hoping I can get some sleep tonight.

Yesterday flashes before my eyes. The image of Brittany, her lips on mine, her sweet breath mixed with my own, is the only picture that lingers in my mind.

As I drift off, her angelic face is the only image that keeps the nightmare of my past away.

CHAPTER 35 Brittany

Rumors are flying furiously through Fairfield that Alex got arrested. I have to find out if it's true. I find Isabel between first and second period. She's talking with a bunch of her friends but leaves them and pulls me aside.

She tells me Alex was arrested yesterday but made bail. She has no clue where he is, but she'll ask around and meet me between third and fourth period at my locker. I hurry to my locker between third and fourth, craning my neck in anticipation. Isabel is waiting for me.

"Don't tell anyone I gave this to you," she says, and slips me a folded sheet of paper.

Pretending to look in my locker, I unfold it. It has an address on it.

I've never ditched school before. Of course a boy I kissed has never been arrested before, either.

This is about me being real. To myself. And now I'm going to be real to Alex, like he's always wanted. It's scary, and I'm not convinced I'm doing the right thing. But I can't ignore this magnetic pull that Alex has over me.

I plug in the address on my GPS. It leads me to the south side, to a place called Enrique's Auto Body. A guy is standing in front. His mouth drops open the minute he sees me.

"I'm looking for Alex Fuentes."

The guy doesn't answer.

"Is he here?" I ask, feeling awkward. Maybe he doesn't speak English.

"What do you want with Alejandro?" the guy finally asks.

My heart is pumping so hard I can see my shirt move with each beat. "I need to talk to him."

"He'll be better off if you leave him alone," the guy says.

"Esta bien, Enrique," a familiar voice booms. I turn to Alex, leaning against the auto body's front door with a shop towel hanging out of his pocket and a wrench in his hand. The hair peeking out of his bandanna is mussed and he looks more masculine than any guy I've ever seen.

I want to hold him. I need him to tell me it's okay, that he's not going to jail ever again.

Alex keeps his eyes fixed on mine.

"I guess I'll leave you two alone," I think I hear Enrique say, but I'm too focused on Alex to hear clearly.

My feet are glued to the same spot so it's a good thing he saunters toward me.

"Urn," I start. Please let me get through this. "I, uh, heard you got arrested. I had to see if you're okay."

"You ditched school to see if I was okay?"

I nod because my tongue won't work.

Alex steps back. "Well, then. Now that you've seen I'm okay, go back to school. I gotta, you know, get back to work. My bike was impounded last night and I need to make money to get it back."

"Wait!" I yell. I take a deep breath. This is it. I'm going to spill my guts. "I don't know why or when I started falling for you, Alex. But I did. Ever since I almost ran over your motorcycle that first day of school I haven't been able to stop thinking about what it would be like if you and I got together. And that kiss ... God, I swear I never experienced anything like that in my life. It did mean something. If the solar system didn't tilt then, it never will. I know it's crazy because we're so different. And if anything happens between us I don't want people at school to know. Not that you'll agree to have a secret relationship with me, but I at least have to find out if it's possible. I broke up with Colin, who I had a very public relationship with and I'm ready for something private. Private and real. I know I'm babbling like an idiot, but if you don't say something soon or give me a hint of what you're thinking then I'll--"

"Say it again," he says.

"That whole drawn-out speech?" I remember something about a solar system, but I'm too light-headed to recite the entire thing all over again.

He steps closer. "No. The part about you fallin' for me."

My eyes cling to his. "I think about you all the time, Alex. And I really, really want to kiss you again."

The sides of his mouth turn up.

Unable to face him, I look at the ground. "Don't make fun of me." I can take anything but that right about now.

"Don't turn away from me, mamacita. I'd never make fun of you."

"I didn't want to like you," I admit, looking back up at him.

"I know."

"This probably won't work," I tell him.

"Probably not."

"My home life's not so perfect."

"That makes two of us," he says.

"I'm willing to find out what this thing is going on between us. Are you?"

"If we weren't outside," he says, "I'd show you--"

I cut him off by grabbing the thick hair at the base of his neck and pulling that gorgeous head of his down. If we can't exactly have privacy right now, I'll settle for being real. Besides, everyone who we need to keep this a secret from is in school.

Alex keeps his hands at his side, but when I part my lips, he groans against my mouth and his wrench drops to the ground with a loud clink.

His strong hands wrap around me, making me feel protected. His velvet tongue mingles with mine, creating an unfamiliar melting sensation deep within my body. This is more than making out, it's . . . well, it feels like a lot more.

His hands never stop moving; one circles my back while the other plays with my hair.

Alex isn't the only one exploring. My hands are roving all over him, feeling his muscles tense beneath my hands and heightening my awareness of him. I touch his jaw and the roughness of a day's growth scratches my skin.

A loud clearing of Enrique's throat tears us apart.

Alex looks at me with intense passion. "I have to get back to work," he says, his breathing ragged.

"Oh. Well, sure." Suddenly embarrassed at our PDA, I step back.

"Can I see you later today?" he asks.

"My friend Sierra is coming over for dinner."

"The one who looks in her purse a lot?"

"Urn, yeah." I need to change the subject or I'll be tempted to invite him, too. I can see it all now--my mom seething in disgust at Alex and his tattoos.

"My cousin Elena is gettin' married on Sunday. Go with me to the wedding," he says.

I look at the ground. "I can't have my friends know about us. Or my parents."

"I won't tell 'em."

"What about people at the wedding? They'll all see us together."

"Nobody from school will be there. Except my family, and I'll make sure they keep their mouths shut."

I can't. Lying and sneaking around has never been my strong point. I push him away. "I can't think when you're standing that close."

"Good. Now about that wedding."

God, looking at him makes me want to go. "What time?"

"Noon. It'll be an experience you won't forget. Trust me. I'll pick you up at eleven."

"I didn't say 'yes' yet."

"Ah, but you were about to," he says in his dark, smooth voice.

"Why don't I meet you here at eleven," I suggest, gesturing to the body shop. If my mom finds out about us, all hell will break loose.

He lifts my chin up to face him. "Why aren't you afraid of bein' with me?"

"Are you kidding? I'm terrified." I focus on the tattoos running up and down his arms.

"I can't pretend to live a squeaky-clean life." He holds up my hand so it's palm against palm with his. Is he thinking about the difference in the color of our skin, his rough fingers against the nail polish on the tips of mine? "In some ways we're so opposite," he says.

I thread my fingers through his. "Yeah, but in other ways we're so similar."

That gets a smile out of him, until Enrique clears his throat again.

"I'll meet you here at eleven on Sunday," I say.

Alex backs away, nods, and winks. "This time it's a date."

CHAPTER 36 Alex

"Man, she was kissin' you like it was the last kiss of her life. If she kisses like that, I wonder how she--"

"Shut up, Enrique."

"She's gonna ruin you, Alejo," Enrique continues, calling me by my Spanish nickname. "Look at you already, spendin' time in jail last night and cuttin' school to get your motorcycle back. Granted, she's got a buena torta, but is she worth it?"

"I gotta get back to work," I say, my mind whirling with Enrique's words. And as I work under a Blazer for the remainder of the evening, all I want to do is make out with my mamacita again and again.

Yes, she's definitely worth it.

"Alex, Hector is here. With Chuy," Enrique says at six o'clock when I'm ready to head home.

I wipe my hands on my work pants. "Where are they?"

"In my office."

A feeling of dread washes over me as I approach the room. When I open the door, Hector stands there as if he owns the place. Chuy is in the corner, a not-so-innocent bystander.

"Enrique, this is a private matter."

I hadn't noticed Enrique behind me, acting as my ally should I need one. I give a nod to my cousin. I've been loyal to the Blood, there's no reason Hector should doubt my commitment. Chuy's presence makes this meeting a big deal. If it was just Hector, I wouldn't be this tense.

Alex," Hector says the moment Enrique is out of sight. 'Ain't it good to meet here instead of the courthouse?"

I give him a weak smile and shut the door.

Hector motions to the small, ripped couch on the far side of the room. "Sit down." He waits until I take a seat. "I need you to do me a favor, amigo."

There's no use in delaying the inevitable. "What kind of favor?" "A shipment needs to be delivered October thirty-first." That's over a month and a half away. Halloween night. "I don't deal drugs," I cut in. "You knew that from day one."

I eye Chuy like a pitcher in baseball does when a guy leads too far off base.

Hector stands over me and puts his hand on my shoulder. "You've got to get over what happened to your old man. If you want to lead the Blood, you've got to deal drugs."

"Then count me out."

Hector's hand tightens and Chuy steps forward. A silent threat.

"I wish it were that simple," Hector says. "I need you to do this for me. And, quite honestly, you owe me."

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