Authors: Jessica Gadziala
Copyright © 2016 by Jessica Gadziala
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof
may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever
without the express written permission of the author except for brief quotations used in a book review.
"This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places and incidents are products of the writer's imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental."
Cover image credit: shutterstock.com/Ahturner
To my mother. Who I pray never reads this with
all its smutty deliciousness. She bought me the
laptop I use to write all of these stories and
listens to me prattle on endlessly about this
indie writer thing.
I promise to show at
two-thirds the same
enthusiasm when she talks about embroidery.
Thank God for charity 5ks and the heavy layer of guilt people slathered on to get you to agree to do such a thing in the first place.
Those were thoughts I never thought I would think. See, I hated running. I hated running the way most people hated clowns. Meaning with a fiery passion. People who thought sweating through their makeup and clothes and chafing in unmentionable areas would be a jolly good time were seriously whacked.
That being said, thank God for all those pre-dawn mornings I was dragged out of bed to train before my mind was awake enough to object to the absurdity of it all. After all, anyone with a fully functioning brain would know sleep was much more preferable to going out in the freezing cold and running along the empty streets.
Because, well, that training was paying off.
In the way that I was running for my life. Sort-of. I was pretty sure anyway. See, I was being chased by two men. Now perhaps all they wanted was to tell me I had a pretty smile. But I seriously doubted it seeing as A- I didn't smile at them and B- they just caught me snooping around some kind of warehouse they were obviously in charge of protecting and C- men didn't chase you down street after street to compliment you. So yeah, I was sticking with the 'running for my life' idea.
My lungs were burning no matter how much I tried to control my breathing and my leg muscles were screaming in objection. And, well, running in jeans wasn't fun. Then there were my feet. Ballet flats were cute and all, but they weren't meant for running and the ones I was wearing had been rubbing at the backs of my heels well before the running started. I half-expected to, when I took them off later, assuming I lived, that there would be some nice cuts that would ensure there would be nothing I could put on my feet for a week that wouldn't hurt except for flip flops. It was January.
But, if I got out of this, I figured cold feet were a relatively small price to pay.
Behind me, the guys were keeping pace, but not gaining on me. I said a silent 'thank you' to my dead mother for the long legs I inherited from her.
I was out of the slums. Crap. 'Slum' was probably not the P.C. way to phrase it. But every other word that came to mind seemed even worse: projects, ghetto. Okay. I was sticking with slum. It was a slum, meaning it was a really really crummy part of town that there was no way that I should have been in at twelve o'clock at night, alone, ever. But I had my reasons. I had to be there. I had to see if I could figure out what happened...
"Give it up, Barbie, you ain't getting away!" one of them called behind me, annoyingly in control of his breath. I'd caught one good glance of him before I started running and didn't look back. He was the kind of built that came from endless hours in a gym and a very likely heavy use of steroids. He put my thrice-weekly normal workouts and my once weekly hot yoga classes to shame.
The road split ahead and I heard one tell the other to go up some other street to head me off. I needed to lose the guy behind me. Even if it was just for a couple seconds, a couple seconds to find a place to dip into and hide, call the cops, call my father, call someone.
When I heard only one set of feet behind me and, judging by the huffing, it was not the gym rat, I threw everything I had into it and sprang forward, turning the corner with every bit of strength and determination I had in me.
I had just barely made it around the corner when I found myself snagged around the waist. A hand clamped down over my mouth as the arm around my waist held tight and hauled me off my feet, pulling me backward and inside some building.
I felt hysteria flood my system, making me flail out wildly, having no clue what I was actually doing, but knowing I needed to do something.
"Shh," a voice hissed into my ear as I was pulled deeper into the store.
I was pretty sure quiet wasn't something I should be either. I was pretty sure I was supposed to scream. But seeing as there was a very strong hand across my mouth, that was pointless anyway.
"How many of them are there?" the voice asked and I noticed two things at once: it was a very nice voice, smooth, sexy and it was not the voice of one of the guys who had been following me for the past ten or fifteen minutes. I made some kind of noise, muffled by the gag. "Don't scream. You scream, babygirl, and they'll find you. Got it?"
I felt like some chick in a movie. Like one of those cheesy B-action movies. I was the girl who was going to blindly trust the guy whose face she hadn't even seen, whose motives I had no idea of. Because, well, what choice did I really have?
I nodded and his hand moved off my mouth. "Two," I said, sucking in a desperate breath.
His arm released my middle and he moved out from behind me and toward the front of the store. It was dark, but I could make out some things that made it unmistakable. There were tables and chairs, desks with locked drawers, big framed flash art on the walls. It was a tattoo shop. For some reason, I felt marginally better at least knowing that fact.
My savior's back was to me as he opened the front door and stood in the opening, looking out at the street. The streetlights out front gave me a slightly better look at him. From what I could tell, he was tall. Meaning
See, I was tall 'for a girl' at my five-foot-nine. He was just plain tall for a human being. My best guess was somewhere around six-three or four. And it seemed like every inch of that six-three or four was made of solid muscle. He had one of those bodies that only some guys managed to get where he had massive shoulders and a strong looking back that tapered into a slim waist. He had on slate gray heavy sweatpants that were slung low on his hips and showed nothing of what was underneath, though if I had to place a bet, my money was on a fine looking backside and muscular legs. His top was clad in a black wifebeater that fit him like a second skin and, therefore, let me make out the strong back and shoulders I mentioned before. His arms were bare, and what (very little) skin I could see underneath all the tattoos, was a really envy-inspiring shade of caramel.
I heard footsteps on the street and felt the panic well up strong and almost crippling. Was he going to sell me out after all? Did he actually work with those guys? I pressed hard into the wall then silently slid down it, wedging myself into the corner behind a tattoo table, knees tight to my chest, arms around my legs, not so much as breathing in some insane fear that it could be audible.
"Paine," the fit guy who chased me said, making my face scrunch up. Pain? What about pain? "See a girl around here? Looks like a Barbie? Blond hair, blue eyes, nice tits and ass, blow job lips?"
I felt my lip curl at that particular description. I wasn't unaccustomed to the 'Barbie' nickname. There was a little bit of truth in it. I was tall; I had blond hair (it was actually a balayage I paid way too much money for); I had long legs. That part, I could live with even if it was getting old. But the tits, ass, and blow job lips comment? Yeah, that was just messed up. Did all guys think things like that when they saw women?
Hey look, it's a chick. Quick- we need to objectify her before we realize she's a human being!
"The fuck would I tell you shit for, D? This isn't your part of town. Enzo know you're out causing problems on Henchmen turf?"
"Ain't afraid of no pussy fucking bikers," the other guy, the one who was huffing and puffing, said.
So, if you were from Navesink Bank, you knew about The Henchmen. Even if you didn't know much about them, you knew they existed. You probably saw them driving around on their bikes in town on any given day or night. If you went to the only decent local bar, Chaz's, you ran into them there. That was their hangout. As a somewhat informed citizen, I knew The Henchmen Motor Cycle Club wasn't one of those 'weekend warrior' type organizations. They were actual criminals. If the papers were to be believed, which I was generally raised not to trust, they were some kind of arms dealers. As a woman, however, I also knew that it seemed like every last one of them was really good looking. Not that I would date a biker, let alone a criminal biker, but still... they were nice to look at.
I also knew that pretty much no one would call The Henchmen "pussy fucking bikers". Or, at least, if they did and word got around, they would live to regret it.
"I'll pass along your opinions, Trick. Now I suggest you get the fuck out of my part of town before you really start to piss me off."
"Know you think you're some badass mother fuck..." D, the muscle-y one, started. The rest of his sentence got cut off. This was mostly because his breath got cut off. Meaning the guy who sort-of saved me grabbed him by the throat and slammed him into the side of the doorway, almost lifting him off his feet.
"Don't forget who the fuck you're talking to D. Now it's late and I'd rather be in front of my TV with a beer than out here talking to you dipshits. But I am always up for handing out an ass kicking to dumb ass mother fuckers who forget who used to own them."
How the heck did someone own someone else?
And, also, what had I gotten myself into?
"Hey hey," Trick started, waving his hands. "He's got a big mouth. Always has. You know how he is. You're gonna kill him. Put him down. We'll get back to Third Street and out of your hair."
My savior let D's throat go, but he did it all rough, somehow turning him and tossing him into the street by it.
"Don't want to see your faces around my shop again. Got it?"
"Got it. Got it," Trick, obviously the one with more brains, said, moving backward until I couldn't see them anymore.
The shop owner slash badass stood in the doorway for another couple of minutes, I assumed, watching the guys disappear, before he moved back into the store, locking the door, flicking the lights, then turning to me.
He was good looking. Seriously good looking. He legitimately could have been a model. He had that perfect mixed-race skin tone, light-skinned black with a chiseled face, buzzed short black hair, and the most hypnotic hazel eyes I had ever seen in my life. Those eyes were looking around the shop.
"Babygirl, come out. You don't have to hide. You coulda been standing right behind me and they wouldn't have touched you."
Yeah, well, I seriously doubted that. What an ego. But I slowly unfolded my body and stood up, staying close to the wall, away from him.
"I'm Paine," he said, head tilted slightly as he looked at me. He did the typical male inspection, but he had the decency to make it short and sweet and focused all of his attention on my face after.
"Paine?" I asked, feeling a smile pull at my lips despite the night I was having. I looked around the shop real quickly before looking at him again. "A tattoo artist... named Paine?" The smile was no longer tugging, but full.
"Yeah yeah yeah," he said, rolling his eyes.
"Heard that before, huh?"
"Only every day for years."