Raised in a hellhole echoing with the sounds of conflict, Bones most profound childhood memory is of the day he died. Decades later, he has built an empire where he is king. His brothers have his back, and life is good. So good, he doesn’t realize what’s missing until he meets her. Ester seems to be the one woman capable of looking beyond his mask and seeing … him.
Salvador Ramos’ world was upended the day before he turned twelve. The stick-thin son of a small-time drug king, his demand for justice fell on deaf ears, and the identity of his sister’s killer remained a mystery. From that day forwards, Sal vowed he would never forget how it felt to be powerless.
Now he’s ready to make good on that promise. Positioned as one of the dominant outlaws in Chicago, he deals from a place of strength and power, leveraging fear as a weapon. He is a leader among men, having honed loyalty through harsh lessons, and earned trusted friendships until none can stand against him. He is Bones.
Bones. A man who looks like a monster. Covered in tattoos, black and grey, with hardly any inch of skin left bare. A hundred different sigils and symbols on each arm, ink crawled up his neck like the collar of a closely fitted shirt. Black and colored ropes of pictures disappeared underneath his shirt. Strong hands, with muscles that danced beneath the images as he moved. Bones wore his skin like a shield, a barrier to hold at bay those who wouldn’t put in the time to know who he is. Who didn’t care enough to learn about the man behind the bars written on his skin. The ink as isolating as any jail cell unless you held the key.
Ester has been on her own since she was ten. She spent much of that time on the run from her own fears, failing to escape from the demons in her mind. Her life on the fringe of society has given her a unique perspective on humanity, and a cautious but abiding curiosity about the nature of people. She sees pain and terror everywhere, except when she looks at him. Bones alone helps relieve the piercing agony of her thoughts.
He should be frightening to a woman like her. But he wasn’t. He isn’t.
“The intricacies of life are but common to all; it is how we untangle these twists that paints our individuality in the canvas of destiny.”
– Dodinsky, Labyrinth
From Chapter 17: Waking the monster
Sitting back in his chair, Bones slung his elbow over the back, kicking one leg out in front, heel of his boot to the floor. At ease in a way that was not pretend, not playacting, and screamed a discrediting of any threat Chismoso or his men could bring to the meet. “I can wait.”
Chismoso didn’t respond, didn’t react, and offered Bones no insight into the workings of his mind in this moment. They sat like that, stalemated, for a minute, then two, men behind Chismoso growing antsy, boot soles scuffing the bare floor as they moved. Bare for easy cleanup, and surely every one of them knew that as fact. Leather creaking, shoulders shifting, hands shoved into and pulled quickly out of pockets, not wanting to give an appearance of threat.
Finally, Chismoso leaned forwards, jutting his chin at Bones. “You are weak.”
“You. Are. Wrong.” Bones infused certainty into each letter. Into each pause. Into each breath that it took to push out those words. “Because I am diplomatic now, do not mistake me for someone incapable of taking care of business. I do not want to fight. But if you force my hand, I will not fight fair.” The heel of his boot dragged across the cement as he sat forward, the sound loud in the stillness of the room. Scratching the side of his nose with a blunt thumbnail, he stared at Chismoso. Elbows again resting on his knees, Bones said, “I will not quit, and there is nothing sacred to me. Do not ever think that the reason I am treating with you peacefully is because I fear violence. I do not.”
Bones sat back again, still at ease. Lifting one hand, he pointed two casually curled fingers towards Chismoso’s chest. “You fight, not for someone or something you love more than breath, but because you are instructed to do so. Do not mistake my principles for yours. Do not mistake my motivation for what drives you forwards. I battle to protect the things and people I will die for. Such a vast difference and the true measure of a man. Fighters and warriors are not the same thing.” He paused, and just as Chismoso opened his mouth to speak, put those thoughts to rest. “Do not wake the monster in me.”