When Sinners Play (Sinners of Hawthorne University #1) - Eva Ashwood

1

They call Los Angeles the City of Angels. They being people who’ve never actually been here, lived here, and seen the truth in LA’s bones that its beautiful skin does a good job of hiding.

But people like me, people who live in the underbelly of the beautiful beast, know there are no angels in Los Angeles.

Here, there are only people.

And people are closer to being devils than anything holy.

I find myself on unholy grounds now. The Medical Examiner’s Office is an unassuming brick building that stands calm and quiet, as if that might somehow soften the realities of what lies inside. I wonder if that’s intentional. If it’s meant to soothe those called here like I’ve been called.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Calm or not, soothed or not, I have to go inside. So I take a deep breath, ignore the woman and her daughter who step outside—eyes rimmed red, dead in the center—and enter to find my own source of agony.

Or at least I would feel agony, if I allowed myself to feel much of anything.

Instead, I crush my emotions into a ball so dense it’s like a black hole. I shove them down and keep them buried.

As unassuming as its exterior, the interior of the Medical Examiner’s Office is downright welcoming. Warm. I feel almost like I’ve walked into someone’s home, kept pristine for guests, rather than a place where the dead go when their lives have come to gruesome ends.

Jared’s corpse is inside this building.

The bitterness, or sadness, or whatever-the-fuckness that I feel bubbling in my chest gurgles up into my throat. The bile of emotion is acidic, and I swallow it back as a man approaches me. He’s young, barely older than I am, with an impressively clean lab coat and rectangular glasses that do little to keep his shaggy blonde bangs out of his face.

“Hello,” he says, dipping his head in greeting. “Sophie, yes?”

I raise a brow, instantly wary.

“Sorry.” He chuckles, somewhat awkwardly. “I recognize you. The deceased had a picture of you in the contact on his phone. I figured properly greeting you might make the situation a little less awkward for you.” His smile falters a little as he takes in my blank stare. “Uh, anyway. I’m Max Alders. Shall we? Or do you need anything? A little more time to prepare, or—”

“No. I’d rather just get this over with.”

Max nods, taking the lead through a corridor that brings us deeper into the building. I pay little attention to my surroundings, keeping my gaze glued to the back of Max’s white lab coat. I just want to get in and out. As quickly as possible, the way you’re supposed to remove a band-aid: swift, with a sharp sting that doesn’t linger past its welcome.

“Here we are,” Max says after another minute. He stops in front of a large, stainless steel door—the first indication of coldness since stepping foot in the building. Wide, crystal clear windows allow me to look in and see walls lined with more stainless steel, freezer-like doors in three neat rows from the floor to the ceiling. There’s a matching table in the middle where I know a body lays, shrouded beneath a white cloth.

“I can give you a moment,” Max offers, shooting me a sympathetic look.

“No. No point in waiting.”

I lead the way in, confident for a girl who’s about to identify a dead body. I’m the first to stand before the shrouded corpse, the ghostly outline of a skinny man showing through. I think back to the dead-eyed woman and her daughter who were leaving as I came in. I