Authors: Elle Christensen,K Webster
“Did you feel sorry for the little rat, Derek? You wanted to make it better, feed it, and keep it as a little friend?”
I shake my head, trying to think of an acceptable answer, my eyes glued to the gun in his hand. “I thought it might make a good watch dog when it got bigger.” I’m scared, but somehow, I keep the terror from trembling in my voice.
“Bullshit!” He walks up to me and shoves the gun up under my chin. It takes everything I have in me not to pull back. “You were being a little pussy, boy. You were letting emotion dictate your actions. That’s a huge fucking problem, kid. You can’t survive in this world if you can’t let it all go. What happens when someone betrays you? If you get
to them.” He spits the word ‘attached’ like its profanity. “You won’t be able to pull the trigger.” He shoves the gun up a little harder. “Do you think I won’t pull the trigger, Boy? Do you think I won’t put a bullet in that pussy heart of yours?”
“No. I know you will.”
It’s not only what he wants to hear—it’s the truth. The scar from his knife on my lower left back is proof of that. The last time I let a tear slip from my eye, he stabbed me, just missing my kidney to avoid actually killing me,
“That’s right. Because, despite you being family and the one I’m raising to take the reins over the guys, I won’t fucking hesitate to snuff the life out of you.”
He cocks the gun, and the sound seems to ricochet off of the cement walls, ringing in my ears. My palms are sweaty, but I stand tall and look him squarely in his gray eyes. Any sign of weakness, any sign of emotion, and my life is over.
After a minute, he nods his head, seemingly satisfied, and takes the gun away. I stifle my sigh of relief as he uncocks it and sticks it into the back waistband of his pants.
“Now, get upstairs.” I don’t pause and I don’t look back.
Later that night, he tasks me with taking the pizza boxes down to the basement. I’m about to toss them in when I see the puppy at the bottom of the can.
“I won’t think twice.”
I start at the sound of Uncle Mick’s voice. When I look behind me, I see him watching me from the doorway.
“And I’ll throw you out with the rest of the garbage.”
With that, he leaves me alone in the basement, where I continue to watch the garbage can for a few minutes. I should have known better. He’s proved that I can’t afford to care about anything or anyone except myself. Taking a deep breath, I expel any emotions remaining inside me as I exhale. A wall cements itself around my heart, crushing it until it is no longer there.
I throw the blanket over my shoulder, grab the mugs, and walk back to the kitchen. There is an industrial size washer and dryer in the back room, so I throw the blanket into the bin beside it for the dirty uniforms. The coffee is cold, so I toss it down the sink and rinse out the cups before placing them in the dishwasher. Next, I open the refrigerator and contemplate what to make for breakfast even though I know damn well I have no appetite. I slam the door shut and look around the kitchen, trying to find something else to do to keep myself busy.
Glancing at the clock, I see that it’s almost nine. The life of a bar owner means late hours, but the rest of the world doesn’t shift to meet my schedule. I need to get ready and start my day. I have too much shit to do to be . . . moping around
You know that’s what you’re doing, dickhead, so just admit it.
Climbing the stairs, I force myself to go straight into my room my eyes deliberately voicing her door. After grabbing some clothes, I take a look down the hall to make sure the bathroom is empty. The last thing I need is for either of us to be running into each other while we’re half naked.
The door is wide open, so I walk in and shut the door behind me. A little bit of steam lingers in the air, the sweet smell of vanilla floating in on each breath. I rub the ache forming in my chest and lean back against the wall. It baffles me that I regret what I said to her. When did I turn into such a pussy?
I push away from the wall and hang my towel on the hook behind the door. After reaching into the shower and turning it on, I brace my arms on the sink and look at myself in the mirror as the room slowly fills with steam. I can see the hardness in my gray eyes—the fatigue from the life I’ve chosen to live. I suppose I can count myself lucky that I’ve lived to be thirty. Maybe this change of pace will mean I’ll live a whole lot longer. The problem is that this future looks just as bleak. Because I’ll be just as alone. As it should be.
Shoving away from the counter, I strip off my clothes, and step under the steady stream of hot water. What would it be like to have a future like everyone else? A woman I deserved to grow old with.
Not just any woman.
I shake my head and tell the pansy boy inside me to shut the fuck up. But I can’t help thinking about the dark-haired beauty in the next room. Sighing, I reach out and turn the knob to the coldest setting.
I finally make it downstairs, and as I approach my office, I notice freshly washed dishes drying beside the sink. Good—she ate something. I walk inside and shut the door. The desk faces the exit and when I sit down in my rolling leather chair, my back is to the wall.
I boot up the computer and get to work, making a few phone calls and arranging for deliveries of new uniforms and some furniture. Then I dive into the tedium of finances and scheduling. There was a day when I would have scoffed at the idea of work like this. But now, I find it oddly comforting. It stretches my mind and keeps me busy.
Sometime later, there’s a knock at my door. I grunt in annoyance at the interruption. I’d finally found some focus and have been buried in work for almost two hours.
“What?” I ask gruffly.
When the door opens, J is standing there in a huff, her claws clearly bared and propped on her hips. She gives me a scathing look, to which I respond with the lift of a single eyebrow. Surprise crosses her features as she stares at me for moment, but then the little hellcat returns.
“Exactly what should I be doing, Warden?” Her tone is belligerent, but her eyes are holding back some reaction to me that I can’t figure out.
I sigh and lean back in my chair. I go to scrub my hands down my face, but I remember I have my reading glasses on. That must be why she was surprised. Since I only wear them when I have to be staring at a computer for an extended length of time, most people don’t see me with them on. Removing them, I toss them on the desk and stand up, stretching my cramped muscles.
“Your job as a server doesn’t really entail anything else, but if you’re bored, there are some things I could use help with.”
At the mention of “help,” her expression turns a little sour. But her need to keep her boredom at bay wins out.
“Fine. What can I do?”
I grab a stack of paperwork and hand it to her along with a pen. “I need inventory done. Just count the supplies and make a note of what we are running low on. The number next to the item tells you at what point we need to order more. So check this box if we’ve gone below it, and then make a note as to how many we are short.” I reach back over the desk and grab a clipboard. “Here. Use this.”
She takes it from me, carefully avoiding physical contact. Inwardly, I sigh. I was wondering whether we’d settle into something comfortable or awkward.
Awkward it is.
She scans the forms, then nods before turning to leave.
“Oh, wait.” I can’t stop myself from reaching out to touch her arm.
She looks at me then pointedly down at my fingers until I pull them back. This time, I roll my eyes.
“Relax, J. I just wanted to tell you to look out for two deliveries.
answer the door. Do you understand? Come and get me when they arrive.”
Before she can argue, I gently place my hand over her mouth.
“Reign in your claws, kitten. Safety first. Got it?”
The reminder that she is here for her safety and not being held hostage—
poor choice of words, jackass—
takes the fight out of her eyes. She inclines her head in agreement and retreats out the door.
I sit down and put my glasses back on, returning my attention to the computer. But, I find myself staring at the door for a few minutes more before sternly reminding myself to get back to work. After several useless attempts to get back to my paperwork, I decide that it’s time for lunch. We need to eat.
Throwing my glasses back on the desk, I head to the kitchen to make lunch. Not once does it cross my mind that I’ll be in her space, forcing her to spend time with me.
THE FUCKING NERVE of that man.
My mind replays his words over and over again after what was one of the hottest kisses I’ve ever experienced. “
For being such an innocent girl, you sure kiss like a woman,
. You could give Niki a run for her money.”
Rage fills me again when I think about it. Earlier, I attempted to lose myself in inventory, but really, all I did was stew over our encounter. He’s just a prick.
I pull open my laptop to send Dad another email. There’s no way I can continue to stay here under these conditions.
Get me out of here.
Jill Who Hates Her Boss
Dad must be waiting for my messages, because he immediately responds.
Jill Who Needs To Be Patient,
I will . . . but not yet. Please just hang in there. I’m so sorry about all of this.
Tears well in my eyes. I wanted him to have a solution—to say that everything was resolved and I was Joss again. Nope. Still Jill.
How long will I have to live with him?
While I wait for his response, I pull my hair into a ponytail since my shift will be starting soon. I have my work shirt on, but I’m still wearing jeans. Mr. Asshole took all the skirts.
Days. Weeks. Months. Years. Decades. I don’t know . . . but you’ll stay there until I’m a hundred percent positive you are safe. Chin up, girl.
I nearly swipe my laptop to the floor with his answer. I’ll run away if this goes longer than months. There’s no way I can live with him for years or decades. I’ll become either suicidal or homicidal.
“Knock, knock,” a feminine voice calls out from the other side of my door.
“You can come in unless your name is Slade.”
Delia pushes through and raises an amused brow at me. “He’s on my shit list too, newbie.” She motions to her slightly girly, black man-pants and my eyes widen. They’re horrible!
“Um. Wow,” I start before curling up my lip in disgust. “Ew.”
She rolls her eyes and tosses me a pair. “These are yours. Put them on.”
While I begin changing, she walks over to the window and looks out.
“He’s not a bad guy—he’s just trying to learn the ropes of managing a bar.”
I ignore the way she sticks up for him and say, “Delia, I can’t wear these.”
And it’s true. Mr. Asshole didn’t take into account that my legs are a mile long. The pants are at least four inches too short. On Delia, they fit like a glove. But I look like a dweeb.