author of THE AMPED SERIES

M.J. WOODS

PROLOGUE FROM "FALL"

Aidan The Vine Men’s Club
New York, New York
December 2009 “Welcome, sir. May I take your coat?” I shake the snow off my hair and shoulders, then give the young woman a once over. Five foot nothing. Short hair. Curves for days. Under thirty. Wedding ring. Not my type. I don’t return the coy smile she offers. I caught my breath less than five minutes ago, rounding the corner of Fifth Avenue after a twenty-minute walk in the cold. I came to The Vine out of habit, but also in need of solace. Through the wrought iron fencing. Up the five stone steps. Through the discreetly placed black doors of the five-story building. The green metal roof acts like a shield tonight, despite the looming stone façade it covers. Once inside, I’m safer – as though I’m landing in the comfort of a bed often slept in. I remove my overcoat and hand it to her. She gives me an appreciative glance, her gaze resting on my exposed forearms. I’d shoved the sleeves of my blue shirt up to my elbows. A smear of blood shows on the turned-up cuff. Shit. Panic returns. I unroll my sleeves, button my cuffs. I hadn’t planned on coming in here. I hadn’t planned on anything that happened today. Short Brunette looks up at me now, not noticing my distress. Or ignoring it. Her polite offer that I warm up in the library contrasts the hungry look in her hooded eyes. Her reaction to my presence may not be intentional, but it is obvious – even if this is strictly against club policy. I memorized that rule. No fraternizing between Club Staff and Members. I follow her out of the foyer, through the front parlor where tables flanked by ivory chairs are vacant. No one occupies the parlor at this hour. Murals of picturesque landscapes cover the walls, the cheery hues of blues and greens doing nothing to calm my racing mind. The empty room suddenly robs me of the comfort I felt on arriving here. We end up in the library, standing in front of a lit fireplace on the east side of the room. The tall windows overlooking Fifth Avenue are hidden by navy tapestries trimmed in gold embroidery. The drapes are drawn closed, deflecting the early winter chill. Brass chandeliers overhead are dimmed. Only one other patron is in here, sitting at the bar at the opposite end of the room. This is better. A man could not think through his problems in the parlor, back straight in a tufted chair where men ate brunch on Sundays or read The New York Times on Tuesday mornings. Or in a seedy, cramped apartment while standing over his dead father. A life-altering, three-in-the-morning problem needed a room like this to solve it. Leather arm chairs. Faint scent of soot and stale cigar smoke. Darkness. Privacy. Frequent business trips to Manhattan put this place on my radar after suggestions by multiple male colleagues, but no one at The Vine Club knows me well. I joined at the start of the year, despite the exorbitant fees. Even with the minimal amount of time I spend here – and though I don’t use the temporary living quarters they offer for longer than a night at a time – the cost is worth it. I use this as a place to recharge, to be alone after dealing with the secondary reason I’d been frequenting Manhattan – my biological father. Here I can relax. A massage in the spa, a vigorous workout in the gym. Whiskey at three a.m. in the library. Members do not make small talk, regardless of the time of day I enter or leave. The one exception was a fellow Yale grad who came here regularly, he told me – and with a different woman each time I’ve seen him. He’s three years younger than I am. About my brother’s age, if he’d survived. I observed Carver James several times at The Vine Club since January. We first spoke to each other in August. After two conversations, he had the balls to propose that I invest in his new business venture. I turned him down on the spot. His ideas were solid. He had other investors interested in his advanced cell phone technology, all of whom I respected. When I asked how much capital he needed and where it would be allocated to launch his product, he’d been unable to give me a clear answer. He walked away pissed, and I hadn’t seen him since. But most men that belong to the Club are not like him. Most of the distinguished members are old money. I’m new money, at least by their standards, and younger by thirty plus years. “Hendricks and tonic with lime, Mr. Pierce?” Short Brunette asks. I’ve never seen her before, but she knows my drink order sight unseen. These are the details of her job. I shake my head no. Unfortunately for her, it isn’t the sort of night to be ordering the usual. “Midleton Very Rare. Neat.” “I’m sorry, sir.” I presume she’s apologizing for getting the order wrong, but she continues. “I believe the barman just gave the last pour of Midleton to the gentleman at the bar.” Fuck my life. An overweight man with his back to me is enjoying what I goddamn well deserve right now. I furrow my brows in his direction. Asshole. “Bushmills 21 then.” “Sir, this must not be your night.” She smiles with warm eyes to placate me. “We’re expecting more bottles after Christmas, but I’m afraid…” “Jameson then,” I interrupt. “Do you have fucking Jameson?” “Of course, sir.” Her eyes dart to the floor as she turns on her heel and scurries to the bar. I don’t need the fire to warm me, but I collapse in a chair in front of the swaying flames of the hearth anyway. I rest my head on the back of the cool leather. After facing the wind on my bitter walk from Hell’s Kitchen, my skin is overheated in the warm room. I have my eyes closed as I wait for whiskey to be delivered, hoping it comes with some resolution to my current dilemma. A raspy voice snaps me to attention. “Pierce,” the voice says in recognition. I look up at the looming figure. “It’s Pierce, isn’t it?” He holds two glasses of whiskey. His hefty frame throws a shadow over me, and I can’t make out his face. His profile is obstructed by the billowing smoke from his fat cigar, which he must’ve lit on his walk from the bar. Five-foot-nothing Brunette is back. “I’m sorry, sir. It’s against The Vine’s policy to smoke in the library.” She stares at the floor, hands clasped behind her back. “If you’d like me to escort you to the smoking terrace, I…” “Listen, sweetheart. I’ve been smoking in this room since before you were a babe in your mother’s arms. Fuck this state and its imposition on my rights.” At his booming voice, the waitress cowers. I expect him to bellow on, but he doesn’t. Instead, he takes note of her discomfort and changes his approach. “No one is in here, save Mr. Pierce,” he nods to me. “It doesn’t seem he’s complaining.” The smoke clears, allowing me a glimpse at the uninvited man’s crimson face. He is unmistakably Italian, his black hair slicked back from a tanned complexion – even in mid-December. His temper is not a result of too much drink. He’s nowhere close to blotto, steady on his feet as he stands above me with purpose. I’m stock still where I sit, assessing this character as he does the same. But no, I’m not complaining. I don’t need the hassle. He turns his attention back to her, crooks a swelled finger and lifts her chin. “It’ll be our little secret, okay doll?” I glare up at him while his attention is focused on her, watching as she nods meekly. He pulls a bill from his pocket and palms it into her small hands before she exits the room. “Glad we settled that,” he mumbles. He sets one glass of amber liquid on the table next to me, but he doesn’t sit. Good. I was right. This guy is an asshole. I hope he’ll head back to the bar. I thank him for the drink, the words leaving me without a hint of real gratitude. But he’s still hovering. More than that, his presence is derailing me from my task – digging myself out of the shit pile I’m drowning in. He needs to go the fuck away. “I felt obliged after learning I’d taken the last pour of Midleton from you.” His cigar is less than half gone, but he tosses it into the fire. “What shall we drink to?” “I’m not in a celebratory mood.” He still looms above me as he raises his chin in query. “I’m also not one to burden others with my problems.” I throw a glance towards the exit, but he doesn’t take the hint. “Two men can solve a problem better than one.” He discards his suit jacket, laying it over the arm of a chair before taking a seat opposite me. He leans forward over his protruding belly, the taught buttons of his white shirt disappearing beneath his chest as he rests elbows on knees. “Try me, son.” Don’t call me son. “There isn’t enough liquor in this room to warrant a release of that information.” He laughs, the throaty chortle bouncing off mahogany walls and oil paintings of the Club’s founders. The sound is unpleasant. “Men like us come here for a reason especially at this hour of morning. Personally, I’m not here because I’m facing hardship.” My answer comes out with intentional sarcasm. “Good for you.” He shakes his head to dismiss my attitude. “I’m here,” he says pointedly, “because I’ve just come from correcting someone else’s problems. I’m celebrating. Trust me, Pierce. Whatever you’re facing, I can help.” “I don’t discuss such things with strangers.” Rather than leisurely sip my drink as I would’ve liked to, I throw back the shot and stand up to leave. He sits back then, one arm at rest, his right lifting a sip of what I’d coveted to his lips. I shake my head in revulsion, turn my back to him and start for the door. I make it three steps before he speaks up. “I know who you are.” I stop short when he continues. “I also know your father. Very well, actually.” My pulse quickens to rabbit pace as my palms slick with sweat. I turn around slowly and stare at him. I’m not confident in the steadiness of my voice if I were to speak. I let my expression beg for explanation, but he remains silent. I inhale, the swallow of air a sharp sting in my throat. “You’re from California,” he finally says. He clears his throat as he sits upright. “You went to Cal Tech and Yale. Your father is Reginald. And,” he adds, “you’re worth far more than he is.” My chest caves in as the air escapes me. Thank fuck. He isn’t talking about Chet. He’s talking about Dad. “I’ve known you since you were ten years old, son. You just don’t remember me.” I hate being in this situation. This is the cost of my accomplishments. Before I meet someone, they already know me. But not typically with the qualifier that I’d been a boy when they first met me. “I’m certain I’d remember you even from that far back.” Memories from childhood are vivid, as much as I try to repress them. “We only met in person once at your father’s office. I believe you were in his care with an illness that particular day.” I search my memories but come up with nothing. I’d been to the office with Dad on countless occasions after the move to California. Even as a kid, I found consolation in the hum of work around me. I encountered many of Dad’s associates over the years. I don’t remember this man. A pit in my stomach tells me I won’t easily forget him. He rises slowly, his breathing labored. “Would you care to reintroduce yourself then?” I ask as I move back to him. “I would not consider our previous meeting a proper introduction, given I was barely able to see over the desk at the time.” A smug smile comes over him. “Ireland,” he says, extending his heavy hand. Another twinge in my gut. Unwittingly, I envision a handshake with the devil himself. “John Ireland.

Excerpted from Fall by M.J. Woods. Copyright © 2017 by M.J. Woods. Excerpted by permission of Perfect Balance Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

M.J. WOODS

© 2017 MJ WOODS BOOKS  |  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The "AMPED SERIES" contains adult content. Not intended for audiences under 18.

g