If I'd known . . . if I had any idea tonight would be "the night" . . . I would have been prepared. I guess I never wholeheartedly thought this would be a reality with Brittany. She reaches into her coat pocket and a dozen condom packages spill onto the blanket.

"You plannin' on makin' this an all-nighter?"

Embarrassed, she puts her hands over her face. "I just grabbed a bunch."

I remove her hands and touch my forehead to hers. "I'm jokin', Don't be shy with me."

Slipping the jacket off her shoulders, I know I'm going to hate leaving her tonight. I wish we could have an all-nighter. But wishes are only granted in fairy tales.

"Aren't. . . aren't you going to take your jeans off?" she asks.

"Soon." I wish I could take my time and make this night last forever. It's like being in heaven and knowing the next stop is hell. I slowly trace kisses down her neck and shoulders.

"I'm a virgin, Alex. What if I do everything wrong?"

"There is no wrong here. This isn't a test in Peterson's class. This is you and me. The rest of the world is shut out right now, okay?"

"Okay," she says softly. Her eyes are glistening. Is she crying?

"I don't deserve you. You know that, querida, don't you?"

"When are you gonna realize you're one of the good guys?" When I don't answer, she pulls my head down to hers. "My body is yours tonight, Alex," she whispers against my lips. "Do you want it?"

"God, yes." As we make out, I shrug off my jeans and briefs and hug her tight, devouring the softness and warmth of her body against mine. "Are you scared?" I whisper in her ear when she's ready and I'm ready and I can't wait any longer.

"A little, but I trust you."

"Relax, preciosa."

"I'm trying."

"This won't work unless you relax." I pull away and reach for a condom, my hands shaking. "You sure about this?" I ask.

"Yes, yes, I'm sure. I love you, Alex," she says. "I love you," she says again, saying it almost desperately this time.

I let her words seep into my body and hold myself back, not wanting to hurt her. Who am I kidding? The first time for a girl hurts, no matter how careful a guy is.

I want to tell her how I feel, tell her how much she's become the center of my being. But I can't. The words won't come.

"Just do it," she says, sensing my hesitation.

So I do, but when she sucks in a breath, I just wish I could take the pain away from her.

She sniffs and wipes a tear that's running down her cheek. Seeing her that emotional is my undoing. For the first time since I saw my dad lying dead in front of me, a tear drops from my eye.

She holds my head in her hands and kisses my tear away. "It's okay, Alex."

But it's not. I need to make this perfect. Because I may never get another chance and she needs to know how good it can be.

I focus on her completely, desperate to make it special. Afterward, I pull her close. She nestles into me while I stroke her hair, both of us content to stay in our private world for as long as possible.

I can't believe she shared her body with me. I should feel victorious. Instead, me siento una mierda.

It'll be impossible to protect Brittany for the rest of her life from all the other guys who want to be near her, to see her as I've seen her. Touch her as I've touched her. Man, I never want to let her go.

But it's too late. I can't waste more time. After all, she isn't mine forever and I can't pretend she is. "You okay?" I ask her.

"I'm fine. More than fine."

"I really gotta go," I say, glancing at the digital clock sitting crooked on one of the tool carts.

Brittany rests her chin on my chest. "You're going to quit the Blood now, right?"

My body stiffens. "No," I say, my voice filled with torment. Hell, why'd she go and ask me that?

"Everything's different now, Alex. We made love."

"What we did was great. But it doesn't change anythin'."

She stands, collects her clothes, and starts dressing in the corner. "So I'm just another girl you can add to the list of girls you've slept with?"

"Don't say that."

"Why not? It's true, isn't it?"


"Then prove it to me, Alex."

"I can't." I wish I could tell her something different. She has to know it'll always be like this, I'll have to leave her for the Blood time and time again. This white girl who loves with her heart and soul so intensely is like an addictive drug. She deserves better. "I'm sorry," I say after I step into my jeans. What else is there to say?

She averts her eyes and walks to the garage's exit like a robot.

When I hear tires screeching, my protective senses kick in. A car is heading our way . . . Lucky's RX-7.

This is not good. "Get in your car," I order.

But it's too late; Lucky's RX carrying a bunch of guys from the Blood comes to a screeching halt in front of us.

"No lo puedo creer, ganaste la apuesta!" Lucky yells out the window.

I attempt to hide Brittany behind me, but it's no use. Plain as day they can spot her sexy, bare legs sticking out of her coat.

"What is he saying?" she asks.

I have the urge to take my pants off and give them to her. If she finds out about the bet, she'll think that's why I slept with her. I have to get her out of here fast.

"Nothin'. He's trash talkin'," J say. "Get in the car. 'Cause if you don't I'm gonna put you in there."

I hear the creak of Lucky's car door at the same time Brittany opens hers.

"Don't be mad at Paco," she says, then slides into the driver's seat.

What is she talking about? "Go," I order, not having time to ask what she means. "We'll talk later."

She speeds away.

"Shit, man," Lucky says, eyeing the back of her BMW with appreciation. "I had to find out if Enrique was shittin' me. You really did screw Brittany Ellis, didn't you? Did you videotape it?"

My answer is a savage punch to Lucky's gut, making him fall to his knees. I straddle my motorcycle and rev the engine. When I see Enrique's Camry, I stop by his car.

"Listen, Alejo," Enrique says to me through the open window. "Lo siento mucho--"

"I quit," I interrupt before throwing the keys to the shop at Enrique and riding away.

As I drive home, my thoughts turn to Brittany and how much she means to me.

The reality hits me.

I'm not doing the drug deal.

Now I understand all those chick flicks I make fun of. 'Cause now I'm the sappy dork willing to risk it all for the girl. Estoy enamorado . . . I'm in love.

Fuck the Blood. I can protect my family and be true to myself first. Brittany was right. My life is too important to throw away on a drug deal. The truth is, I want to apply to college and make something good out of my life.

I'm not like my father. My father was a weak man who took the easy way out. I'll take the challenge required to leave the Blood, forget the risk. And if I survive, I'll go back to Brittany a free man. ;Lo juro!

I'm not a drug dealer. I'm letting Hector down, but my reasons for being in the gang were to help protect my neighborhood and family, not deal drugs. Since when did dealing become a necessity?

Since I got pulled over, it snowballed from there. I got arrested, then Hector bailed me out. Right after I asked questions of other OG's about the night my father died, Hector and my mom got in a heated discussion. She had bruises on her. After that, Hector was all over me about the drug deal.

Paco tried to warn me; he was convinced something wasn't right.

Racking my brain, the pieces slowly come together. Dios, was the truth right in front of my face? There's one person who can tell me the truth about the night my dad died.

I storm into my house and find mi'ama in her room. "You know who killed Papa."

"Alejandro, don't."

"It was someone in the Blood, wasn't it? The night at the wedding, Hector and you were talkin' about it. He knows who it is. You know, too."

Tears start welling in her eyes. "I'm warning you, Alejandro. Don't do this."

"Who was it?" I ask, ignoring her plea.

She looks away from me.

"Tell me!" I scream at the top of my lungs. My words make her flinch.

For so long I just wanted to take the hurt away from her, I didn't think to ask what she knew about my father's murder. Or maybe I didn't want to know, because I was afraid of the truth. I can't let it go any longer.

Her breathing is slow and jerky as she puts her hand to her mouth. "Hector ... it was Hector." While the truth sinks in, dread, shock, and pain spread through my body like wildfire. My mom looks up at me with sad eyes. "I just wanted to protect you and your brothers, That's all. Your papa wanted out of the Blood, and got killed for it. Hector wanted you to replace him. He threatened me, Alejandro, and said if you didn't get jumped in, the whole family would end up like your father--"

I can't listen anymore. Hector set me up to get arrested so I'd owe him. And he set up the drug deal, duping me to think it's a step up when it was only a step into his trap. He probably suspected someone would spill the truth, and soon. I hurry to my dresser, my mind set on what I need to do--confront my father's killer.

The gun is gone.

"Did you go in my drawer?" I growl at Carlos, grabbing him by the collar as he's sitting on the living room couch.

"No, Alex," Carlos says. "!Creeme! Paco was here earlier, and he went to our room, but he said it was just to borrow one of your jackets."

Paco took my gun. I should have known. But how did Paco know I wouldn't be home to catch him?


Brittany stalled me tonight on purpose. She said not to be mad at Paco. They were both trying to protect me, because I was too stupid and cowardly to stick up for myself and face the facts that were right in front of my face.

Brittany's words as she got in her car ring in my ears. Don't be mad at Paco.

I hurry to mi'ama's room. "If I don't come back tonight, you've got to take Carlos and Luis to Mexico," I tell her.

"But, Alejandro--"

I sit on the edge of her bed. "Mama, Carlos and Luis are in danger. Save them from my fate. Please."

"Alex, don't talk like that. Your father talked like that."

I'm just like Papa, I want to say, and made the same mistakes. I won't let it happen to my brothers. "Promise me. I need to hear you say it. I'm dead serious."

Tears are streaming down her face. She kisses my cheek and hugs me tight. "I promise ... I promise."

I hop on Julio and call someone I never thought I'd call for advice--Gary Frankel. He urges me to do something I'd never thought I'd do--call the cops and inform them what's going down.

CHAPTER 53 Brittany

I've been sitting in Sierra's driveway for five minutes. I still can't believe Alex and I did it. I don't regret a single minute of it, but I still don't believe it.

Tonight I sensed desperation in Alex, though, as if he wanted to prove something to me through actions instead of words. I'm mad at myself for getting emotional, but I couldn't help it. The tears streamed out from joy, happiness, love. And when I saw a tear escape from his eye, I kissed it. ... I wanted to save that tear forever because it was the first time Alex let me see him like that. Alex doesn't cry; he doesn't let himself get that emotional about anything.