“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.
Jakob turned his head and met my gaze. “There are drugs coming into Kearny.”
“I thought you guys didn’t sell here.”
“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-damnit. 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, 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 frowned. “I thought all the local businesses here worship 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 when banks denied them financial assistance. It was part of why so many people put up with all their other bullshit, 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 not everything was as black and white as some people would have you believe.
“A few club members have parents there,” Jakob said. “So do some guys from The Jokers. Their paths crossed during visiting hours once.”
He didn’t have to tell me 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 got hurt during it.
“What can I do?” I asked. I couldn’t move Gran again. She’d just gotten settled in, and she seemed to really like Magnolia Hills.
“Do you have power of attorney over her?”
“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. That you heard someone there might be shady. Management might not want to listen to The Kings, but when the 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?”
“You should just take me with you next time you go,” he said. “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.”
“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? 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 back to my place with a smile on my face and no regrets.
That wasn’t possible when someone ordered you to stay with them and then barred their apartment door.
I’d been so tired that I’d passed out the second I closed my eyes. Jakob and I had been on opposite sides of the bed, 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, and now we lay here, 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 getting ready to strike.
“Woah!” I said, throwing my hands up between us.
He squinted at me. “Krista.”
“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 again. I should have known better than to do that to a combat vet, but with only six hours of sleep, 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. All those muscles were no less impressive during the day, but when he was relaxed like this, they were a little less intimidating. He looked tired and sated, at ease in a way I had never seen, not even last night. The blankets pooled around his waist, revealing a tantalizing glimpse of a happy trail.
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.
Two hands landed on my sides, 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. “I meant my leg, not my vagina.”
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.”
“My God, you are full of yourself,” I said, scooping up my clothes. 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, and sent me a dark grin made of pure masculine smugness. “Said the woman who practically begged me for a next time.”
My face burned as I shambled out of there and went to hide in his bathroom. Shit, I really had said that, hadn’t I? Lord help me, I had meant it. Even now, the sight of his big body leaned up against the headboard filled my mind. 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. By the time I emerged, Jakob was in his kitchen, wearing a pair of basketball shorts that sat low on his hips. The smell of coffee hit my nose.
“How do you take it?” Jakob asked, shooting me a sideways glance.
However you want to give it to me, I almost blurted.
“Just cream if you have it,” I said.
He pulled a to-go mug out of a cupboard, filled it for me, and met me by the door as I was stepping back into my shoes.
I took it from him as I straightened, touched but slightly confused. Jakob didn’t seem like that bad of a guy. Maybe he was a little smug, 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, 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.