We are taking book requests on our companion website. You can request books here. Make sure, you are following the rules.

Skin of a Sinner: Chapter 23


we were ever in a Mad Max and Aliens situation, we’d be sorted. I’d set us up a nice ride—maybe steal a Tesla, go electric—and we’ll be crusin’ around the country, just you and me. I mean, it would suck because there probably wouldn’t be any radio, and we’d have to hunt our own food—lucky we have the house—but I think we have a serious chance of survival.”

Bella mumbles a non-committal “Yup,” while reading the back of a chip packet, which she follows up with a cute little frown. “The Tesla would be useless without electricity.”

So she was listening to me. Good. “We’ll head to South America, so I can be a cooler Indiana Jones, and you can be Jane.”

Bella still doesn’t look up from the packet she’s been reading for the past ten minutes.

The great news is that her hair is back in her signature pigtails—but she didn’t want my help. So that pissed me the fuck off this morning.

Fuck baby steps. Why isn’t she madly obsessed with me yet?

“Jane’s from Tarzan, and please don’t compare yourself to Indiana Jones. You’ll never win.”

Test number two: Passed.

Wait, actually, no. Now I’m a little bit jealous. What the hell does she mean that I can’t win against Harrison Ford?

That’s it. She’s banned from watching movies with him in it.

All morning, Bella has been either ignoring me or giving me her very obviously distracted attention. I’m inclined to pull over and make her give me her full attention, but she’s lucky that we’ve got an appointment to make, and we’re already late.

It’s time to change tactics and say something that will really get her going. Pull out the big guns, as they say. “Oh, I forgot to tell you. While in prison, I read this book that said that when snakes lay eggs, you should always spin and tip the eggs a couple of times to help them grow strong.”

I bite back my grin and wait for her to explode.

She drops the bag and looks up at me with crazed eyes. “You’ll kill it if you do that!”


Yes, Princess, I very painfully remember the YouTube phase you went through. I had to sit and watch hours of egg-hatching and snake breeding videos. Weirdo. I’m practically traumatized—but I still didn’t hesitate to get the Mojave ball python tattooed on my wrist.

Christ. The things I’d do for this girl.

And to this girl.

Note to self: Once we pull over, Google how long she needs to recover so we can go another round or two.

“The book also said that if you see mold growing, run it under hot water and use a toothbrush to clean it.” I’m trying so hard to hide my grin, but damn it, I’m failing. She’s just too easy to rile up.

Over hypothetical snake eggs, of all things.

“Mickey!” she gasps, like I killed a dog or something. I’m not sure why she’s acting like either of us will be breeding or raising a clutch of snake eggs anytime in the foreseeable future, but I guess she’s preparing for the unlikely event it does happen. “No! You can’t do that. You’ll damage the shell and risk hurting the snake. You could kill it,” she says with haunted eyes. “You have to sprinkle antifungal powder to try to save the egg.”

So much passion in such a little body.

I pinch her cheek, and she slaps my hand away—as expected. So I send her a wink. “I’m just egging you on. No baby snakes are being harmed. Promise.”

“Snakelet. Not ‘baby snake.’” She scoffs, doing a cute nose scrunch. “It’s like saying baby dog instead of puppy.”

Out of everyone, I find Bella the easiest to read. Glaring and nose scrunching usually means she’s angry. Red cheeks and fluttering lashes mean she’s feeling flustered. Who knows what the fuck the rest means. She usually gives me a piece of her mind and fills in the blanks for me.

My phone buzzes for what has to be the tenth time in the past half hour. I check the GPS and slow down to a stop in front of a block of decrepit apartments.

Damien sticks out like a sore thumb in this shitty neighborhood, leaning against his bike like an A-class predator. I’d say we’re pretty equal on the hunter scale, but at this moment, I’m envious of the prick; I want to feel the wind around me as I ride my goddamn bike.

But, I gave it up for Bella.

I’m driving a 2006 Toyota pickup instead of the other love of my life, my BMW GS.

“Why are we here?” the main love of my life asks.

“To get IDs.”

She stares at me, mouth ajar. “This was the surprise? You seriously couldn’t have told me this last night.”

I shrug, grabbing my gun from the glove compartment. “It didn’t seem like a big deal.”

“Are you kidding me? We’re on the run because someone almost murdered me, then you started driving us to God knows where at night, and you didn’t think telling me where we were going was important?”I pause with my hand on the door, glaring at her because the reminder of the fucker holding a gun to her head sets me off. I should have kept stabbing him, or beaten his sorry ass up before he died.

“Sorry. Well, now you know.” I’m out of the car before she can blow up. Unless I cool my shit, we’ll probably have another murder on my hands.

I still. Wait, I was meant to Google something. Shit, what was it? I remember it’s something really important. I narrow my eyes at Bella, hoping she’ll inspire my memory.

Oh, that’s right.

I pull my phone out and type my question into the search bar. Pursing my lips, I tip my head from side to side. Three to four days until she’s recovered. I can live with that.


Bella doesn’t waste time running to me, darting her watchful gaze up and down the street until she settles on Damien. Other than him, the only people around are the kids biking and playing farther up the street.

Rico’s brother nods at me. It’s a good thing Damien looks nothing like his annoying ass brother. Different mothers or something like that.

Damien’s all slicked-back hair and dead eyes. Whereas Rico’s got a buzz cut, and he’s like a dog that doesn’t know how to shut the fuck up.

I stand up straighter when Bella grabs onto me, leaving no more than a foot between us.

“Who is that?” she whispers under her breath.

“An acquaintance.” I’m sure as shit not about to call him a friend. I doubt he’d call me anything other than a person he knows. But I’ve got to admit that I still trust Damien more than his punk of a brother.

I’ve known Damien for five years. He’s a runner of some kind (I like to call him bitch boy, which he doesn’t appreciate) for the Alvarez Cartel, traveling over state lines for one thing or another. Damien got me doing some jobs for him on and off for extra cash; get money from this guy, fuck up that guy, win this thing, drop that thing off.

In principle, I don’t fuck with gang business, and he knows I have no loyalties with the Alvarez, but there’s no questioning that it pays damn well. It’s the only reason I’ve been able to spoil Bella.

And because I wouldn’t trust the cartel with two-week-old pizza, let alone personal information, until yesterday, I’d never mentioned Bella to him. Rico probably told him, though, and Damien strikes me as someone smart enough to do his research before getting into business.

Damien makes no move to greet us as we approach. He doesn’t need to take his glasses off for me to know he’s staring at me blankly. The man only has two settings: bored and angry.

“Riviera.” Even his voice sounds bored.


He looks at Bella for a beat too long, so I glue her to my side by an arm around her shoulder.

Actually, hey, that’s an idea. Maybe I could cuff us together so she can never leave my side (aka, she’ll have no choice but to shower with me). I’m a genius. Why didn’t I think of that earlier?

“Your contact?” I grind out when Damien continues to stand still.

Typical fucking criminals refusing to share their contacts so they can get a cut. I mean, Damien won’t expect anything, but he’ll want the person to know he referred me to them.

Without another word, he walks toward one of the three-story apartments. The guy unnerves me with how quiet he is, but at least he doesn’t run his mouth like Rico. And Damien can actually throw a decent punch. I’ve been in the ring with him a couple of times and became intimately aware of how good it feels to have my nose broken by his fist.

Bella sidesteps the trash and random shit on the stairs as we climb up the three-story building. Laundry hangs over balconies, and people sit on plastic chairs next to their open doors, smoking and having their morning beer.

On the third floor, Damien removes his glasses and leads us down the walkway to the second apartment from the very end, which happens to be the only apartment with a camera in front of its door. Whoever owns it painted the camera the same color as the walls, but it’s hard to miss when a single, black, beady eye is staring right at you.

I tug Bella behind me to get her out of view. Damien tracks our movements but, as expected, he doesn’t say a thing.

Before his knuckles hit the door, it swings open, and I instinctively reach for my gun.

“You’re late,” the little thing behind the door snarls, hands on her hips, teeth bared, looking more murderous than I feel.

She’s a five-foot-something package of loathing, with bleached white streaks at the front of her hair, glaring daggers at Damien. Bella’s pretty tall for a girl—small compared to me—but Damien’s contact must come to Bella’s chin. Hell, she looks about our age, too.

Her freakishly blue eyes snap to me, and her scowl deepens. The fuck is her problem?

“Come in,” the aspiring demon snaps. “I’ve got better shit to do than wait around for you two assholes.” She narrows her eyes at my girl, who’s stepped out from behind me. Her scowl drops, and she dips her chin at Bella. “The name’s Connie.”

Oh. So the Oreo-haired girl knows how to play nice, after all?

My princess gulps. “Isa.”

Connie steps back to let us in, sneering extra hard at Damien as he passes. His only reaction is a dismissive glance her way.

The door locks behind us, causing Bella to jump and huddle closer to my side. The mouse is eyeing Damien and the dark room, where the only light comes from the locked computer monitors. Connie pushes a button, and a photography setup in the corner of the living space comes to life.

Connie crosses her arms and stares me down while Bella shifts her weight. “So what do you need?”

“IDs.” I almost jump when Damien answers for me. Since when the hell does this guy speak voluntarily?

She whips her head to him. “I wasn’t fucking asking you, now was I, Reyes?”

His eye twitches, but he doesn’t say a word.

“Passports, driver’s licenses, and birth certificates. For the both of us,” I say, because fuck that guy for talking for me. I was planning on just a driver’s license, because decent fake shit is expensive, but the guys from yesterday made me realize that we need some extra precautions.

“What grade?” Connie’s expression is all business.

“The best.”

“Can you pay?”

I pull out a fat wad of cash from my pocket.

She nods, studying the stack like she’s trying to count how many bills I hold. A lot, that’s how much I’m handing over. Inflation hurts criminals, too.

Which also means I have to make up the money somehow.

Connie unlocks her computer, and one of her five monitors lights up. “Name?”

“Michael Key.” I grin at Bella, waiting for her to get the joke.

Connie types the name and raises a brow at Bella.

She gives me an are you kidding me? look. “Um.” Pigtails bites her lip and looks around like she’s trying to find inspiration. “Alice.” In Wonderland—one of her favorite movies. “Uh, Benson?”

“Key,” I correct.

Connie jerks her head from the computer. “What? Are you siblings or something?”

I glower, and Damien shifts forward. “Put her down as my wife.”

Bella scrunches her nose. “What?”

Connie glances from Bella to me, then back to Bella. “So you’ll need a marriage certificate and a name change certificate as well?”

“No.” What we’re already getting is expensive enough.

Connie shrugs. “Figured if you’re starting fresh with a good product, you’ll need a solid cover.”

Little shit has a point.

“Fine, Alice Benson,” I say.

“Alice Olivia Benson,” Bella says.

So that’s where she got the last name. “You are not naming yourself after a character from Law & Order.”

Pigtails frowns and crosses her arms, feeling emboldened by the glare Connie is giving me. “Why not?”

Christ, the attitude on this girl.

“Don’t you support her on this.” I point at Connie and direct my attention back to Bella. “If you’re trying to have a convincing cover, you don’t name yourself after a TV show.”

She narrows her eyes at me and looks at Connie as she confidently says, “Alice Rosa Benson.” Then she mutters, “Rosa Diaz is just as cool.”

This woman. I shake my head internally.

The silence that follows grates as Bella and I take turns standing in front of the camera. Damien never once takes his eyes off Connie as she moves around the apartment, checking photos and writing the names and ages we want.

I tap my leg as we wait for Connie to do whatever it is that she needs to do when she finally says, “Give me two days. I’m low on ink.”

I don’t fucking think so. “I came here because I was told I’d get quick results. Either we get the IDs today, or we’re walking out that door.”

Connie steps forward, and I don’t miss the way Damien stiffens. “Then leave. By all means, run along and find someone else. Then, you can cry your little baby tears when you get pulled over and a cop sees right through the ID, and then your Bonnie and Clyde gig is over. You asked for the best; I am the best.” The mismatching ball of crazy pokes me in the chest. “You don’t come to my place and talk to me like that. So you can either shut up and wait two days, or you can get the fuck off my property.”

“We’ll wait,” Bella says, surprising us all.

Connie softens a bit and nods. “Good choice.” Turning her back on us, she starts doing something at a bench. “Drop the money on my desk and close the door on your way out.”

My heart sinks as I slam the cash on the table. My pockets feel lonely already. Then both Bella and Damien glare at me as if I just kicked a child. Why the hell am I being picked on right now?

“Don’t piss off the lady making our illegal documents,” Bella hisses as we walk out the door. “I’m not.” Excuse me. When did she get confident calling out my shit in front of other people anyway?

She scoffs and storms ahead. What is going on?

“Women,” Damien mutters from behind me.

I turn to catch him shaking his head as we walk down the stairs. Right, well, whatever, back to business. “I need another gig. What have you got? It looks like I’ll be in Chicago for two more days.” It physically hurts me to drop a couple of grand on fakes.

Damien is part of the reason I could afford to do the house up and still have money for everything else. I wouldn’t say I owe him anything, but he hasn’t done me wrong in the five years I’ve known him.

“A match tonight. Do it well, and you’ve got a spot tomorrow.” He says nothing for a moment. “Bring the girl.”

Fuck no. “I’m not bringing her.” It isn’t the place for Bella, and if any guy looks at her for a second too long, the fighting won’t happen inside the ring.

“Then leave her by herself and see what she’ll do.”

What the fuck does he know about Bella? I wish I could say with absolute certainty that Bella wouldn’t run. I want to believe that she wouldn’t, but I don’t. Not completely. I could tie her up, but I have a feeling she wouldn’t take kindly to it.


I’m going to regret this.

“Send me the details.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


not work with dark mode