NOTE: This is an unedited chapter from the the draft for Black Tides. There may be a typo or two!
Chapter One: Ace
Not many people know what it’s like to die.
But I do.
The thought held me as I let the cold, relentless depths of the sea take me once again, dragging me under as I fell weightlessly through the abyss, just as I did every night, and my arms drifted outward while I waited for the inevitable end to come. I knew it was there, just beyond my fingertips, in the darkness below.
It was always there.
The call of death, the sweet promise of an end to this empty nightmare. I’ve grown tired of waiting for it. Night after night, the broken memories of my past weighed me down and lulled me to sleep as I slipped into the same, tangible dream of nothingness.
I sank into the sea like a leaf falling to the ground–knowing I’d never reach it–and the cold darkness slowly rose to meet me as I waited to wake up.
But this time was different.
My slowing heartbeat thwomped in my ears, picking up speed as the black pit grew closer and the unrelenting chill of the sea seeped into my bones. I dragged my arm through the water, straining to touch my fingertip to the darkness, but a strange white light suddenly sparked to life in its center.
This was new.
Curious, my mind dragged, and the light grew bigger and brighter, blinding me. This was not the death I was promised. I tried to swim away, back to the unreachable surface, but the ocean was like glue, and I couldn’t go back, only forward to the unfamiliar light.
Slowly, I reach down, and as my fingertip breached the edge of the expanding light, the dream shattered all around me. The enraged sea screamed in my ears as it gathered in a whirlwind. The water receded and my bare feet planted firmly on a smooth rock as I stood in the center of the tornado, aghast at the sight before me. I’d had this crippling nightmare every night since I was four, and never did it end like this.
The light hovered above, blocking out the starless sky, and my jaw hung as I stared up at it in wonder, just as the wild sea twirled into a spout and dove into my gaping mouth, forcing its way inside my body, filling every brimming inch of me until I gaged on it.
My back slammed into the rock, and I gasped for breath as I shot up in bed.
“Fuck,” I breathed and ran my hand through sweaty white curls.
The early morning sun burst through my window blinds, casting a pattern of stripes across my bedroom. I grabbed the tepid water from my bedside and downed it as my phone vibrated against the glass top. A groan turned over in my chest when I glanced at the screen and saw six missed calls. One was from work.
Five were from my mother.
I swung my bare legs out of bed, relieved to be rid of the hot blanket, and stomped over to the kitchen for more water as I called my assistant.
“Ace!” Evelyn squealed from the other end. “Where are you? You’re late.”
I cleared my throat after chugging another glass of water and wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. “See, that’s the best part of owning the firm, Ev’. I make my own hours.”
She laughed. “You’re just lucky you have me.”
“Listen, I have a lead on a new project. Do you have time today to sit down?”
I rifled through my closet of mostly black garments. “I can’t take on another client, Ev. You know how jam packed I am. Are they willing to pre-book for…” I tossed my planner on the bed and flipped through the next couple of months. “Maybe late September?”
“Ace, I can take over a few of the small accounts,” she replied, hardly able to contain the excitement in her voice. “You might change your mind once you see the projects details. Specifically, the budget.”
“Fine. I’ll be ready in half an hour.”
“I’ll send a car,” she said and hung up.
I had my own car but driving around downtown Edmonton during work hours was more work than it was worth, and parking was practically a mythical creature. So, I used a town car service during the week.
I settled on a black sleeveless jumper with wide legs. It was the dead of summer in Edmonton, but I couldn’t sacrifice my signature black attire. Paired with my long platinum curls, skin that looked like it never sees the light of day, and eyes so brown they almost appeared to be one large black pupil, my signature style was my brand.
I was the face of Ace Interiors for three years now and had quickly grown from a newbie in the city to a well-respected Interior Designer who catered to dozens of home builders and property investors. I specialized in urban living and restorations, but no one was currently restoring anything worthy of sinking my teeth into, so I loaded my plate with condo developments and a few major house flips.
Just as expected, the town car pulled up at the front entrance to the condo complex I lived in, and I arrived at the office within twenty minutes. I greeted June at the front desk and passed Dawn in accounting with a simple nod. She hated being interrupted, so I rarely bothered her with trivial greetings and small talk. She respected my space as the boss, and I respected hers as the person who kept our small firm in check. I may be the captain, but she was an integral part of the engine.
As was Evelyn.
My assistant had been with me since day one, when I was bidding on every job possible from my home office. She operated from my couch and, together, we built Ace Designs to be one of the best places in Edmonton to handle high-end design jobs.
I strode quickly for my office at the end of the downtown commercial loft, my chunky heels on the bamboo floors echoing off the distant walls. Evelyn scurried in behind me, fiery red hair falling out of the claw buckle she always wore, arms stacked with binders and papers. She shut the door behind us and sat down across from my desk.
“Okay, give me the low down on this project,” I said as I fiddled with the Nespresso machine behind my desk.
“Projects, plural,” she replied, opening a thick black portfolio. “Ace, this guy is a gold mine. He’s a massive property investor and loves flipping old properties.”
I sat down, my eyes wide with delight. “We love old properties.”
She nodded with a grin. “That we do.”
“So, what’s the current job open for bids?” I spun halfway around in my chair and grabbed my steaming cup of coffee as Evelyn splayed papers and drawings on my desk. “He just took over that collection of abandoned airport hangars out by Leduc. He wants to turn the whole thing into a small luxury resort with a rustic vibe.”
My heart quickened. “Say less,” I said over the rim of my mug. “Okay, and what’s this killer budget you mentioned?”
Evelyn’s grinned spread as she slid another piece of paper across the surface of the desk. I picked it up and scanned the words and numbers that filled it. My chest tightened.
My assistant cleared her throat and leaned back in the chair. “Told you.”
“This…is nearly three times the fee we’d normally charge for a job like this.”
“Let’s throw our hats in, Ace.”
I rocked back in my big leather chair, rereading the budget proposal and considering the scope of this project alone. If we got it, it could open doors to all the other projects this guy has in the pipeline. I took another sip of my coffee, pretending to ignore how Evelyn practically bounced in her seat with anticipation.
I raised my gaze to her eager stare. “I’d need your help with the condos on Whyte.”
She could barely contain herself. “Definitely.”
“And you’d probably have to work a few nights.”
She tipped her head to the side and gave me a look that said, oh please. “I’m a childless, single woman in my mid-twenties. I have all the time in the world.”
I mirrored her grin. “Let’s do this. Whip up some renderings for me to take. I’ll call his office right now and arrange a meeting on site. What’s his name?”
Evelyn double checked one of her many folders. “Uh, Cook. Benjamin Cook.”