I was ten minutes late to work that night. I’d gotten home from visiting Gran, sat down on my couch, and promptly fallen asleep. I hadn’t planned on falling asleep, so I hadn’t set an alarm, but the second my head hit the back of the couch, the sleeplessness of last night and the stress of this morning hit me like a ton of bricks.
Now I was paying for it.
I hated being late. I had a drill sergeant in basic training who lived by the phrase, “If you’re not fifteen minutes early, you’re late.” Unfortunately, it was one of those things that stuck with me, and knowing I was running behind with no hope of clocking in on time had put me in a foul mood.
Our shift manager for the night was a big bastard named Jimmy Jordan. He was a King, and one of Charley’s buddies. They’d served in the first Iraq war together. Everyone else on staff hated the guy. He didn’t do anything during his shifts other than drink free beer and bullshit with the customers. Every now and then he’d bark a command at one of us from his barstool to make it look like he was in charge, and if we didn’t hop to it, he’d jump up and holler in our faces like he was still an active-duty sergeant and we were his knuckleheaded troops. Come last call, he was the first one to slip out the door, leaving one of us to close up in his place. He was usually so late to work that it was a minor miracle he’d beaten me in.
“You’re late,” he barked as I rushed past.
“You’re early!” I yelled back.
From the dumb look on his face, he didn’t get it.
I left him to stew it over some more and headed toward the bar. Nina was already behind it, slinging pint glasses, and she raised a brow and eyed me over the tap. The place was packed, even for a Saturday. I was supposed to be replacing a woman named Judy, who was pushing sixty and still bleached her hair with peroxide from the corner store.
“You’re fucking late,” Judy said.
I stashed my stuff beneath the bar and logged into the register. “I know. I’m sorry.”
“I’ve been here since noon,” she said, coming right up to my elbow. “My feet are fucking killing me.”
My temper snapped. I whirled on her. “I already fucking said I’m sorry. What else do you want from me, Judy? I’m not apologizing again.”
The thing about being a 5’10” woman with some muscle on my frame was that I could be one intimidating bitch when I put my mind to it. Judy was nearly as short as Nina, and as I loomed over her, I saw a spark of fear light in her rheumy blue eyes.
She took a measured step back, chin held in a hard line, and glanced to her right. The bar was shoulder-to-shoulder, and we had a crowd of witnesses to this altercation. She had to serve these assholes the same as I did, and if she lost face now, they’d run riot over her during her next shift.
I took a deep breath and shoved my anger down. “Look, I had a shitty day, and nothing I can say will change the fact that I was late. I’m sorry for snapping.”
“Just don’t do it again,” she said before stomping off.
Nina sidled up on my other side. “Nice save.”
“Thanks.” I finished signing in for my shift. The digital cash register chimed, and my server ID flashed across the screen, telling me I was logged in.
Nina leaned in closer. “I thought you’d be in a better mood after the night you had.”
My spine stiffened. I glanced down and saw a lecherous grin on her beautiful face. “Who told you?”
She started counting off her fingers. “First, my sister texted me. Then I heard it from Sally Mason when I took over her shift,” she nodded toward the bar behind me, “and then Rob and Steve and Derek asked if I’d known you and Jakob were fucking.”
“What did you tell them?”
“That I’m your best friend, so of course I knew.” She smacked my arm and leaned in. “Why the hell didn’t you call me?”
“It’s a long story,” I said. “Tell you after we close?”
Her dark eyes sparked in the dim light. “You better.”
I saw motion out of the corner of my eye. Someone was already flagging me down for a refill. I took a step in their direction, but Nina grabbed my arm. I turned back toward her.
“Just tell me if it was as good as we imagined,” she said.
She and I had spent an embarrassing amount of time sitting poolside, talking over which members of The Kings would be the best in the sack. Jakob usually landed in the top five. What sweet, summer children we had been.
I lowered my voice and leaned down. “It was better than we thought it would be.”
She blinked. “It can’t have been.”
I had a flashback then, not my first of the day, to Jakob’s fist digging into my hair as he fucked me sideways. An echo of the orgasm he’d given me rolled through me, causing a full-body shudder.
Nina dropped my arm. “Holy shit. That good?”
I nodded, expression grim. “That good.”
Which was why instead of trying to reign my temper in earlier, I’d let it run wild. I was worried that if I forgot, even for a second, that Jakob was a first-class asshole, I would have ended up in some janitor’s closet at Magnolia, pinned to a wall of shelves as he dicked me brainless.
“Are you going to see him again?” she asked.
“Not if I can help it,” I said. “It was a one-time thing. Can we stop talking about it?”
I went to refill that drink.
Unfortunately, everyone wanted to talk about it. Jakob had told me that several members of The Kings had grandparents in Magnolia. It turned out those old busybodies had nothing better to do than to call up their kin the second I walked past with Jakob to say, “You’ll never believe who’s getting a grand tour of the place.”
More than one customer dropped the boyfriend word on me. Each time it hit like a bomb. Within the club, people either fucked, meaning you had promiscuous, no strings attached sex with whoever you wanted on any given night, or you had an “old lady” or an “old man”, meaning you were bonded for life like some mated pair of werewolves. There was no middle ground.
As far as I knew, Jakob had never claimed an “old lady” before – I made a mental note to violently murder the first person who tried to call me that. The fact that he’d made an exception for me was apparently a Big Deal, and my customers were treating me with a newfound reverence that made me want to hit things with my fists.
One of the younger club members slid me a five-dollar bill after I served him a $2 shot of the cheapest whiskey we had in house and then said, “Thank you, ma’am.”
“I work for a living,” I snapped.
In the military, sir and ma’am were reserved for people with bars on their shoulders. I’d been salt of the earth enlisted, a ground pounder, and I was proud of it. In The Kings, only enforcers and above earned the right to sir and ma’am, and since I wasn’t even in the club, I’d be damned if people started treating me like I was.
It was so backward that now they thought I was dating one of their enforcers, my value suddenly shot up. Like this was 1600, and I was some scullery maid who’d married a lord. This wasn’t 1600. I didn’t inherit Jakob’s rank just because I slept with him, and the next person to insinuate that I did was going to get an earful.
I would have gone on a feminist rage if I hadn’t seen this same thing happen when one of the women who sat on the council for The Kings got serious with a local mechanic. This wasn’t sexism; this was classism.
Around ten o’clock, a pretty brunette slid onto one of my barstools. I was working the far end of the bar, and she’d chosen the seat right next to the wall. I recognized her. Beth. I’d seen her and Jakob getting hot and heavy back when I first started working at Charley’s, but they’d drifted apart shortly after, and now she was with a guy everyone called Slim. The two of them seemed pretty happy together, but when I caught sight of her face, a small thread of anxiety wormed through me anyway. She looked like a woman with something to say.
“What can I get you?” I asked.
“Vodka tonic?” She had a nice voice, deep for a woman, melodic, like she could sing. Add a little rasp to it, and she would probably drive men wild with her bedroom talk.
I poured her drink and slid it in front of her.
She bit her lip and glanced around.
“Anything else?” I asked.
She leaned over the bar a little, and her top dipped forward, revealing ample cleavage. Jakob must have been a boob man. I had a fair amount on top too.
“You and Jakob?” she asked.
“What about us?” I said. I’d given everyone vague answers tonight. If growing up in a small town with druggie parents had taught me anything, it was that feeding into rumors, whether you confirmed or denied them, would only prolong the rumor and subsequent interest in it.
“Be careful,” she said.
A tendril of unease slipped up my spine. “Why? Did he hit you?”
She shook her head, sending her chocolate curls flying. “No. But he can be a real asshole sometimes.”
“Was he mean to you?” Not everyone recognized mental abuse as actual abuse.
She frowned. “He never, like, said bad things about me. He just, I don’t know, it’s like he doesn’t have a filter.”
“Yeah. I’ve noticed.”
“And he can be really jealous,” she said.
“How so?” She was just a fountain of information. I might not be in a relationship with the guy, but I wouldn’t say no to learning more about him. It could come in handy later. Somehow.
“He put Ricky Sloan in the hospital after Ricky grabbed my ass one night.”
“So, he beat up a man for sexually assaulting you?”
“What?” She let out a nervous giggle. “No. I mean, yes, he put him in the hospital, but Ricky just grabbed my ass is all. He didn’t try to…” she glanced around and lowered her voice, “…you know.”
Rape you? I almost asked, but I didn’t. The town of Kearny hadn’t gotten the memo yet that it wasn’t okay to grope people just because you found them attractive. Ricky had a reputation for being a scumbag, even in a gang full of criminals, and try as I might, I couldn’t drum up a single fuck that Jakob had hurt him for assaulting Beth.
“Anything else I should know?” I asked.
“No,” came the growling answer.
Beth and I both jumped as Jakob emerged from between two other bikers. I hadn’t seen him coming, because unlike at Gran’s earlier, he blended right into the sea of denim and leather spread out around us.
Beth slapped some bills on the counter and took off. Smart woman.
Jakob lowered his big frame onto her abandoned stool and rested his elbows on the bar top. “Enjoy your little gossip session?”
I flashed my teeth at him. “Immensely.”
He opened his mouth to respond, but a big, meaty hand landed on his shoulder.
“Hey there, you two,” Daniel King boomed.
Great. Just what this situation needed. Another asshole.
“Hey, boss,” Jakob drawled, rising to offer Daniel his seat.
Daniel waved him away. “I see word finally got out about you.”
If he talked any louder, he’d be shouting. I was right about him wanting to lord this information over everyone else. The fact that he chose this moment to do it made me want to spit in the next drink he ordered.
I tried my best not to scowl.
“Krista, can you help me with this keg?” Nina called.
I made my excuses and went over to help her. She was crouched down, hands on the sides of the steel drum. Sometimes the fixtures could be finicky when you tried to switch out kegs, and both of us had gotten a face full of beer foam on several occasions. We’d found the risk was mitigated when two people worked together to get the lines re-attached.
I crouched down next to her, my leg protesting. “What’s wrong with it?”
“Nothing,” she hissed. “I was just trying to give you an excuse to get away from those two.”
I stared at her. “I would hug you if they couldn’t see me.”
She grinned. “Mental hug received. Now let’s frown while we pretend to fuck around with this for a few minutes.”
I raised my hands and jiggled the lines, dutifully frowning.
She frowned too, but prettily. “How’s the night going?”
“Like shit,” I said. “But people have been tipping me really well even though my attitude sucks.”
“Perks of screwing a King.”
“Screw. Singular. It won’t happen again,” I told her.
She eyeballed me, her frown replaced by the hint of a smile. “Mmhmm.”
“Don’t mmhmm me. I’m serious.”
She glanced over my shoulder, just a quick flick of her dark eyes before they landed back on mine. “Tell that to the sociopath whose been staring at you all night.”
I stiffened. My leg protested, and I nearly fell over. “I thought he just got here.”
Her lips lifted into a full-blown smile. “Nope. He’s been over at a corner booth with a couple of other enforcers.”
She butted her shoulder against mine. “When Mickey made you laugh, he half stood out of his seat like he was going to come kill him for it.”
Turned out Beth was right about the whole jealousy thing after all. “I don’t know why. We didn’t exactly end things on a good note.”
She frowned. “No?”
I shook my head. “I swear I’ll tell you later. Now help me up, my leg is starting to cramp.”
As predicted, Jimmy slipped out of a side door the second we rang the bell for last call.
“Piece of shit,” Nina said.
Our third bartender for the night, a dark-skinned black man in his early twenties named Kyle, crossed his arms over his chest and glared as the door banged shut. Being barely old enough to drink and having a baby face made the glare more cute than menacing, but I didn’t have the heart to tell him that.
“One of these days, I’m going to fuck up my closing cash out,” he said. “Like short it a grand so that Charley has to get involved and Jimmy will be forced to confess that he bailed early.”
“Don’t,” I said. “They’re war buddies. Even though Charley knows Jimmy’s a piece of shit, he’ll still take his side if it’s his word against yours.”
Kyle swore and stalked away.
Nina watched him go. “Kid’s got a lot to learn about the world still.”
I nodded. “Unlike us grizzled old hags.”
She threw a bar towel at me. “Speak for yourself.”
An hour later, she and I sat in her car in the parking lot. Tonight had been crazy busy, and even though I’d spent half of it pissed off, I couldn’t deny that the energy in the place had been infectious. I was still riding high off of it, like the true extrovert I was, and even though I knew a crash was coming, I wasn’t ready to go home just yet.
“So what happened with you and Jakob?” Nina asked.
“Remember how I told you he made that cryptic comment about Magnolia during our shift yesterday?”
“He had me follow him home afterward to talk about it, and it turns out The Kings think someone on staff there is selling drugs in town.”
Her brows shot up. “Only an idiot or a madman would sell drugs in Kearny.”
“Hard agree,” I said. “When we got to Jakob’s place, Daniel King was sitting on his couch, and the door was busted like he’d broken in.”
She leaned back in her seat. “What the hell?”
I filled her in on their strange interaction and then told her about Jakob ordering me to stay the night.
She frowned at me when I was done. “Think there’s bad blood between the two of them?”
“I have no idea. That’s what I thought at first, but then they were all buddy-buddy in the bar tonight.”
“Maybe it’s a private squabble, and they’re keeping it from the rest of the club.”
I shot her a look of disbelief. “Those bikers are the worst gossips in town. I doubt they’d be able to keep their rift a secret.”
“So what do you think is going on? Who was watching Jakob’s place if not someone loyal to Daniel?”
“No clue. I just know that something is off there, and it’s going to bother me until I find out what it is.”
She placed her hand on my forearm. “Be careful. People who go poking around in King business usually come to regret it.”
“Don’t worry. I’m not dumb enough to go poking around. At this point, I’ve resigned myself to being bothered about it indefinitely.”
“So Daniel left last night, and then what?”
“Then Jakob gave me the most intense orgasm of my entire life.”
She let out a shaky breath. “Details or it didn’t happen.”
I told her the details.
People always made a big deal about men and their locker room talk, but in my experience, women were just as likely to engage in that kind of banter. We embellished details, waxed vainglorious about dick size, and even exaggerated about silly things like the number of positions we’d attempted, all to make ourselves look like some sort of goddess in the bedroom, with our partners our devoted supplicants, of course.
With Jakob, there was no need for embellishment, and as I talked, it was like I relived every glorious, sordid moment of last night. By the time I was done, I was thirsty as fuck and ready for round two, even though I was still pissed at the guy.
Nina let out a low whistle. “Goddamn.”
“Yeah. But then he was a complete nightmare today at Gran’s nursing home, so it’ll never happen again.”
I gave her a recap of our visit, including why we were there and how we’d convinced Dr. Perez to help us.
Nina’s expression softened. “I’m sorry he said that to you.”
“It’s not the fact that he said it, but the way that he did.”
She nodded. “I know, but I’m still sorry.”
I sighed. “Thanks.”
She chewed her lip for a second, watching me with a wary expression.
“Out with it.”
“Don’t take this the wrong way, or think I’m on his side or anything – I’m not. I’m team Krista, all the way.”
“I know. Now what is it?”
“Do you think maybe he took your comment about people treating you differently now as being ashamed of him? And that’s why he was such a dick to you afterward?”
“The thought had crossed my mind, but it doesn’t excuse his behavior.”
She held her hands up. “I’m not excusing his behavior, I’m just saying, even guys like Jakob have to have feelings, and he wouldn’t be the first person to lash out when they were hurt.” She sent me a meaningful look.
I wanted to squirm in my seat. Thinking back on it, I had to admit that I could have handled the situation better myself. That comment about him always having to remind people that he was a King hadn’t been said from the best place or in the nicest tone.
“You ever get sick of being right about things all the time?” I asked Nina.
She flashed me a wide grin. “Never.”
I was on my way home afterward, when an engine thundered to life. I fought a wave of déjà vu from last night. A headlight flared in my rearview as the bike emerged from a side street and settled into the lane behind my car. It followed me all the way home.
My hand was in my purse as I got out of my car, fingers gripping my gun.
The motorcycle pulled up next to me, and I recognized Jakob. He turned the bike off and ambled over. The night clung to his large form as if welcoming back a lost son. Cicadas called out from the nearby trees. Heat hung heavy around us, despite the fact that the sun had set hours ago. A bougainvillea vine wrapped up the wrought-iron staircase of my apartment, and the heady bouquet of its flowers perfumed the air.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“Making sure you got home safe,” he said.
I let my gun go and slung my handbag over my shoulder. “I don’t need you to be my bodyguard. You might not think I can defend myself in a fight, but I can sure as shit still fire my weapon without your assistance.”
He stared at me for a long moment. “I didn’t say you can’t defend yourself. I said your knee makes you vulnerable.”
Heat crept up my neck. “Are you serious right now? Verbatim, I said “I can take care of myself,” and then you said, “The fuck you can,” which made it pretty clear that you think I’m nothing but a helpless victim.”
He gave me a flat look. His tone was just as lifeless. “I don’t think that.”
“All evidence to the contrary,” I said. “And I don’t appreciate you making me out to be hypersensitive to my grandmother.” I dropped my voice in imitation of him. “I told her a hard truth she didn’t want to hear.”
My anger had a hold of me now, and when he opened his mouth to try and get a word in, I barreled right over him. “There’s a difference between being straight forward and being an asshole, and telling me, in anger, that I can’t take care of myself was a dick move, and you know it. And it wasn’t a hard truth, by the way. Trust me, I get reminded twenty times a day that my leg is my weakness, but it doesn’t make me helpless. You’ve never seen me in a fight. I’m vicious. Take my leg out, and I will rip out your jugular with my teeth if you come close enough.”
“And I also don’t – wait. What?”
I stared up at him, my anger deflated by confusion. Did he just apologize to me?
He met my eyes with unflinching focus. “It was a dick move. I’m sorry. I was pissed you were ashamed of me and I snapped.”
You could have knocked me over with a feather. I had hurt Jakob Larson’s feelings. And now he was apologizing for how he reacted. I could never tell Nina about this. Her head would get so big that she wouldn’t be able to walk through doorways anymore.
“I’m not ashamed of you,” I said.
He scowled. “You said they were going to treat you differently, and you shouldn’t have brought me there.”
“I know what I said. It came out wrong, and then you snapped at me about my outfit before I could apologize.” I took a deep breath and pushed my stupid, stubborn pride aside. “I’m sorry I made you feel like that. I’m not ashamed of you. I just know that they’ll probably get shitty with me about who they think I’m dating, as if it’s any of their business, and my big mouth means I’ll pop off and make it worse.”
“You looked good,” he drawled.
I blinked. “Huh?”
“In the outfit,” he said, stepping closer. His tall frame momentarily blocked out the nearby streetlight. “You might have looked like a church mouse, but you were a highly fuckable one.”
My mouth popped open in surprise.
Jakob leaned down like he was going to kiss me, but came to a shuddering stop an inch away from my lips.
I grabbed his jacket and pulled.
Our mouths collided.
My back hit the car door.
Jakob’s big body shoved against mine.
Time seemed to slow down. The sultry sounds of a summer night became muted. The only things I could hear were our harsh breaths, my heartbeat pounding in my ears, and the creak of leather in my fists.
And then Jakob broke away, and I was forced to release him before I got dragged forward, off balance. I swayed where I stood, head spinning from lack of oxygen. Why was it that every time he kissed me, I forgot to breathe?
“Call me tomorrow?” he said.
It took me a second to answer. “Yeah.”
He stood there another minute, gaze raking over me, shoulders held in a stiff line like he was fighting some sort of internal battle. I was half afraid that if he came at me again, I would tackle him, and we’d end up fucking in my car in a well-lit parking lot where anyone might see us.
I opened my mouth to speak.
“Tomorrow,” he said, and turned away.
It sounded like a threat.
Copyright © 2020 by Navessa Allen
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.