“What’s going on with the nursing home?” I asked Jakob.
We’d showered and were back in his bed. He’d lent me a shirt to sleep in. It had a clean lime scent and absolutely swamped my smaller frame. Outside, darkness bled from the night sky, a corona of red-gold rising in the east. It was five a.m. My eyelids were so heavy I needed matchsticks to hold them open, but I had to know if Gran was in danger.
Jakob met my gaze. “There are drugs coming into Kearny.”
“I thought you guys didn’t sell here,” I said, frowning.
“We don’t. They’re not ours. It’s mostly high-end prescription stuff, and we think someone on staff at Magnolia is switching out the old people’s meds with placebos and selling the real deal on the side.”
I rolled onto my back and pressed the heels of my hands to my eyes. “God-fucking-damn it. Do you know how much research I did before choosing Magnolia Hills? They had the best reputation for Alzheimer’s treatment in the state.”
“This is a recent development,” Jakob said. “And we haven’t been able to prove it yet. It’s just a suspicion.”
I pulled my hands away and looked at him. “Why haven’t you been able to prove it? Haven’t you talked to their management?”
He shook his head. “They wouldn’t listen even if we tried. The Kings aren’t welcome at Magnolia Hills.”
“I thought all the local businesses here worshiped you guys.”
The Kings had a habit of helping out struggling Mom and Pop shops, frequenting them when business was slow or giving them low APR loans out of the club’s funds when banks denied them financial assistance. It was part of why so many people put up with all their other garbage, aside from the whole ex-military thing. For all their faults, The Kings cared about this town, and they did more to keep its citizens safe and happy than our elected officials did.
Did that make a gang full of gun runners the good guys? No. But my time in the military had taught me that not everything was as black and white as some people would have you believe.
“A few club members have parents or grandparents there,” Jakob said. “So do some guys from The Jokers. Their paths crossed during visiting hours once.”
He didn’t have to say anything else. The Jokers were a motorcycle club with territory to the west of Kearny and were The Kings’ biggest rivals. No doubt a brawl had broken out. Hopefully none of the residents were hurt during it.
“What can I do?” I asked. I couldn’t move Gran again. She’d just gotten settled in, and she really seemed to like Magnolia Hills.
“Do you have power of attorney over her?” Jakob asked.
“For medical shit too?”
“Ask to have her drug tested,” he said.
“Won’t her doctor be pissed if I do that?” Magnolia Hills had several on staff. Gran’s was a middle-aged Latina woman named Dr. Perez, and she’d been excellent so far. I didn’t want her to think that I questioned her care of my grandmother.
“Tell her doctor why you want it,” he said. “That you heard someone there might be shady. Management might not want to listen to The Kings, but when family members of their patients start complaining, that’s different.”
“I can do that,” I said. “What else? Want me to take sneaky pictures of staff members?”
He sent me an amused look. “It’d be better if you take me with you next time you go. Say I’m your boyfriend, and you want to introduce me to your grandmother. They’ll have to let me in then, and I’ll get a chance to look around for myself.”
I stared at him. “Only if you promise not to do anything to get me banned.”
He somehow managed to shrug while lying down. “I promise.”
“I wanted to go see her today.”
His gaze slid past me to the alarm clock. “Then we need to shut up and go to sleep.”
The thing about one-night stands is that they’re only supposed to last one night. If you got carried away and stayed over, the next morning could be awkward as hell. Did you have sex again? Making it a one-night/morning stand? Offer to cook breakfast as some sort of weird thank you for the orgasm? Or did you try to slip out of there before your hookup woke up, making you look like a complete douchebag?
I preferred to avoid those conflicts altogether. In the past, I’d gotten my rocks off and gone home with a smile on my face. That wasn’t possible when someone ordered you to stay with them and then barred their apartment door.
Jakob and I had been on opposite sides of the bed when we fell asleep, with a wide gap between us, but when I woke up several hours later, a heavy arm pinned my waist to the mattress. My left leg was draped over one of Jakob’s. He’d nuzzled his head into the crook of my neck sometime during the wee hours, and now we lay there, sharing a pillow, his breath heating my shoulder as the sun peeked around the edges of his curtains, brightening the room with its midday glow. His clock read 11:06. So much for getting to the nursing home right when they opened.
I nudged him with my shoulder. “Jakob.”
He jerked awake, rearing above me like a snake ready to strike.
I threw my hands up between us. “Woah!”
“Krista?” he asked, voice rough with sleep.
“Yep. Still here.”
“Sorry,” he said, rubbing a hand over his face.
Note to self: don’t try to wake Jakob Larson out of a dead sleep ever again. I should have known better than to do that to a combat vet, but with only six hours of sleep myself, my brain was still sluggish.
Now that the threat of violence had passed, I pulled my hands away from him and struggled upright. My leg was stiff, but last night made it well worth it.
“I need to go back to my place and get changed before heading over to see Gran,” I said. “Want to meet at Magnolia Hills around 12:30?”
He nodded and sat back against the headboard. “Sure.”
His hair was disheveled from sleeping with it wet. He looked tired and sated, at ease in a way I had never seen. The blankets pooled around his waist, revealing the full glory of his chiseled upper body.
I pulled my eyes away from him and rolled out of bed. My right knee buckled, and I had to grab onto the headrail for support.
Jakob’s hands landed on my hips, bracing me up. “You got it?” he asked.
“I got it, just a little sore.”
The hands disappeared. “I have that effect on women.”
I shot him a look over my shoulder. His smug grin matched his smarmy, goading tone. I narrowed my eyes at him, and his grin widened. Well, damn. Jakob Larson had a sense of humor.
“I meant my leg. Not my vagina,” I said, trying to let some air out of his giant ego.
His shirt fit me with all the flattery of a potato sack, but from the way he looked me over, I might as well have been standing there stark naked. “I knew I should have dragged it out for longer,” he drawled.
“My God, you are full of yourself,” I said, scooping my clothes up. I had to pee so bad. The weight of his arm had been crushing my bladder.
He leaned back, bracing his hands behind his head, biceps flexing in a way that tempted my gaze, and sent me a dark grin made of pure masculine smugness. “Said the woman who practically begged me for a next time.”
I snapped my mouth shut and shambled out of there to go hide in his bathroom. I really had said that, hadn’t I? Lord help me, I’d meant it. Even now, the sight of his big body leaned up against the headboard filled my mind with dirty thoughts, and I imagined myself doing all sorts of things to him that would wipe that smug look from his face.
We didn’t have time for any of them. Gran came first. I needed to get the hell out of here, get changed, and make sure she wasn’t being fed Tic Tacs instead of the cholinesterase inhibitors that were supposed to help with her memory loss.
I saw to business and then changed back into my clothes from last night. There was no avoiding the mirror over Jakob’s bathroom sink, and I tried my best to set myself to rights in it. My dark brown eyes were a little bloodshot, and my already full lips looked even fuller, evidence of how well they’d been used last night. Between them and my hair, which had gone into full revolt while I’d slept, I looked like I’d been well and truly fucked.
By the time I re-emerged, Jakob was in his kitchen, wearing a pair of faded jeans that sat low on his hips. He was shirtless, and my breath whooshed out of me in a low, “Oof.” It was different, seeing all that muscle in broad daylight. In the soft glow last night, shadows had played over his skin, softening his hard lines, making him seem less massive, more pliable. And looking down on him while he sat in bed this morning had badly skewed my perspective, made me momentarily forget the sheer size of him. Now he seemed unbreakable. Now there was no ignoring the fact that he looked like some sort of weaponized version of a human. His biceps were as big as my thighs. I could have swung from his trapezius muscles. He didn’t have abs so much as he had bricks stacked over his torso.
He paused at the counter and turned toward me, and the smell of freshly brewed coffee hit my nose. “How do you take it?”
However you want to give it to me, I almost blurted.
Most people were repelled by things that intimidated them. I’d always been drawn to them instead. It must have been some sick need to prove myself. To convince myself that I could be just as bad, just as mean, just as dangerous. Or that nothing frightened the great Krista Evans. Whatever the reason, Jakob drew me like a magnet. He was half-feral, had a horrible reputation for violence, and yet all I could think about right now was how to convince this big bad man to let me tie him to the nearest piece of furniture. The fact that I was fantasizing about someone so dangerous choosing to submit themselves to me was another topic entirely, one it would take my therapist to untangle.
Jakob stood holding the coffee carafe, staring at me. Amusement and arrogance spread over his features. “Thought you were stroking out for a second there. Need me to go put a shirt on, or are you okay now?”
My face burnedwith the strength of my embarrassment. I wasn’t someone who blushed easily, but goddamn it if he hadn’t just caught me drooling over him.
Well done, Krista. Instead of deflating his ego, I’d hooked it up to a tank of helium. From the shit-eating grin on his face, I would never live this down.
“I’m fine,” I bit out.
“How do you take your coffee?” he repeated.
“Just cream if you have it,” I said, trying to act as normal as possible. The military had taught me that responding to this kind of teasing only made it worse.
He pulled a to-go mug out of a cupboard, filled it for me, and met me by the door as I stepped into my shoes. “Here you go.”
I took the mug from him as I straightened, touched but slightly confused. Jakob didn’t seem like that bad of a guy. Maybe he was a little arrogant, but let’s face it, he’d earned that self-assurance. And he might have been blunt, cagey about details of his life, and borderline domineering at times, but then there were little things, like not being the least bit put off by my leg, carrying me to the shower, these dark hints of humor, and now this thing with the coffee, that made me think he didn’t quite deserve his black reputation.
“Thanks,” I said.
“You’re welcome.” He pulled the chair away from the doorknob, unlatched the locks, and then turned away and strode into the kitchen without a backward glance. “See you in a while.”
I shoved my frustration down and left his apartment. I had not been hoping for a goodbye kiss. Not one bit.
I almost convinced myself that was true by the time I pulled out of the parking lot, sipping some of the best homemade coffee I’d had in years.
Copyright © 2020 by Navessa Allen
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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.