Magnolia Hills Nursing Home sat on ten well-manicured acres of rolling Texas hills. Most of it was cultivated into parkland, with vast stretches of mowed lawns dotted here and there with towering live oaks that provided a much-needed bit of shade. Quaint, split-rail fences separated one area from the next. Paths wound lazily throughout the grounds, and the staff regularly encouraged their residents to get out and get some exercise on the days we didn’t have black flag warnings.
Gran and I liked to slip out through the back doors when I visited and while away the hours walking. Or we’d head to our favorite bench. It stood beneath a namesake magnolia on the crest of the tallest hill on the property. Together, we’d sit and gossip as white, fluffy clouds marched past overhead. This was Big Sky Country, and the view from up there stretched from horizon to horizon in all directions.
I pulled into the parking lot of the nursing home and turned the car off. The building itself was less inspiring than its surroundings. It was only three stories tall, and instead of being built to impress, it was made to withstand the tornadoes that ripped through here every spring.
At 12:30 on the dot, the thunder of a revving motorcycle reached my ears. I looked over just as Jakob pulled into the parking space beside me. I should have known he’d be punctual. He cut his engine and stood from the bike, pulling off his helmet. Dressed in his King leathers, he looked as unapproachable and dangerous as he had in the bar last night.
Maybe this was a mistake.
He left his helmet on the bike seat, knowing no one would be stupid enough to steal it, and ambled over to my door. His sunglasses hid his eyes from me, and I had no idea if his gaze was still as warm as it had been this morning or if it had frosted over again.
“You gonna sit in there all day, or are we doing this?” he asked, voice muffled through the glass.
This was definitely a mistake.
I sighed and got out of the car. Jakob tugged off his motorcycle gloves as we headed toward the front door. He tucked them into the pocket of his jacket and reached out to thread his fingers through mine, playing the part of my boyfriend.
The bullshit started the second we stepped inside.
A large man in a security uniform rose from a chair in the entryway and blocked our path, his feet braced wide like he was facing down a charge. He had light black skin, a shaved head, and the kind of build that made me think that he could literally throw us out of here. His name was Hank. I’d chatted with him on several occasions, usually when there was a line of visitors waiting to get checked in. He was an ex-cop who worked the security detail here. Magnolia Hills mostly kept him and a few other officers around to help out with unruly patients. It wasn’t uncommon for people with dementia to become violent, and sometimes even the large male orderlies on staff needed another helping set of hands.
Hank had only ever been kind to me, but now he did nothing to mask his open look of disgust as he stared Jakob down.
I squeezed Jakob’s hand, praying that he’d let me deal with this. “Hi, Hank.”
“You can’t come in here,” he said, still staring at Jakob.
The biker tensed beside me, his grip tightening.
I pulled my hand free before he bruised my fingers and stepped in front of him, hoping to diffuse the situation. “Hank, this is my boyfriend. He’s not here to start any trouble. I only wanted him to meet my gran.”
Hank’s gaze finally dropped to me, and I saw recognition in his eyes. “You’re dating a King, Krista?”
I nodded. “I work at Charley’s, remember?”
He frowned. “You’re not one of them, are you?”
“No. Look, I promise he won’t be a problem. I just want him to meet Gran while she’s still,” I took a deep breath and put a little wobble into my voice, “you know, my gran.”
His expression softened. He knew my grandmother had Alzheimer’s and that her short-term memory was already slipping. I might have felt like an asshole for playing this card and intentionally manipulating him, but if it kept Gran and her new friends safe from some wannabe drug dealer, I’d do this and worse and pray for forgiveness later.
Hank’s gaze lifted back to Jakob. His expression hardened. “You step a toe out of line, and I’ll shoot you,” he said, resting his palm on the butt of the gun strapped to his waist.
Jakob didn’t say anything, but the hard jerk of his chin could have been a nod of assent.
I waited for a tense moment as Hank eyed him, then let out a shaky breath when he finally stepped aside and let us in. I could tell from the look on his face that our days of friendly banter while I waited to see Gran were over. As an ex-cop, it made sense that he hated The Kings – they got away with murder in this town, if some of the uglier rumors I’d heard were true – but I couldn’t keep a little pang of regret from darkening my mood as we left the entryway behind us.
Thankfully the reception area was relatively clear. There were only two other sets of visitors ahead of us waiting to get in: three older Latino men, and a young couple that looked to be of eastern Asian descent, with two rambunctious kids running circles around them. The woman turned when she heard Jakob’s boots clomping over the marble, and the friendly smile fled from her face when she caught sight of him. She leaned in and whispered something to her husband as we approached. He glanced back and then grabbed his kids, keeping them close.
If Jakob’s feelings were hurt, it didn’t show. He stared at the room around us with a look of utter boredom, like he didn’t want to be here. No one watching from a distance would notice the focus in his eyes, the way they seemed to take in every detail. A door opened to our right, and he turned to track the man that strode out of it. Something about how focused Jakob was on him had me turning my head too.
The man was white and looked to be in his late twenties or early thirties. The navy suit he wore fit him like a glove, revealing broad shoulders and a narrow waist. He had the kind of good looks that reminded me of an old-school Abercrombie poster. His brown hair was styled into a crew cut. The deep golden color of his skin spoke of a life led outside. He looked young, successful, and supremely confident.
His dark gaze scanned the room as he walked, pausing over Jakob briefly and then landing on me. I was an attractive woman. I was used to being checked out. God, the first week I worked at Charley’s, I got hit on more times than I could count. This man looked at me with interest, but it was different than idle appreciation. His gaze roved over me almost clinically, as if checking my features against some sort of internal database. He must have been a doctor.
A heartbeat later, he pulled his gaze off of me and disappeared into another door. He didn’t reemerge, but Jakob kept his attention fixed in that direction like a sighthound. Had he recognized that guy? There was no way to ask him without someone overhearing. Between the cavernous space and the marble beneath our feet, this room had the kind of acoustics most theaters would kill for. Every sound was amplified, even the hushed whispers of the couple ahead of us.
Several awkward minutes later, we stepped up to the front desk. The white woman behind it was even taller than me and sturdily built. In her early forties, her mousy brown hair was pulled up into the same no-nonsense bun she always wore it in. Her hazel eyes were sharp behind her thick-framed glasses as she looked between Jakob and me.
I placed my hands on the counter and smiled, trying to look non-threatening. “Hey, Annie.”
She jerked her head at Jakob. “He can’t come in here.”
I repeated the same sob story that I’d told Hank, but unfortunately, she was immune to my pretty face and crocodile tears.
“Last time we let one of them in, we ended up with twenty thousand dollars’ worth of damage,” she said, her chin set in a stubborn line.
Okay, why the hell hadn’t that showed up in my Google search? Had Daniel King done something to smooth it over or cover it up?
Jakob stepped beside me and slid two crisp hundred-dollar bills over the counter toward Annie. “I won’t be a problem.”
She eyed his hand for a second and then darted a glance around the room. No one else was in line behind us, thank God, or she might not have been tempted to take the bribe. Finally, looking for all the world like she didn’t want to, she reached out and grabbed the bills.
“You better not be,” she said.
I signed us in and led Jakob away, praying that no one else tried to stop us. His Fuck You face was back in full force, and from the way his jaw was clenched, I worried he might hit the next person to look at him funny.
This right here was why I wasn’t looking for anything more than a one-night stand with him. This was why I didn’t want to be his girlfriend. I didn’t want to worry about his moods, I didn’t want to smooth the way for him, and I didn’t want to be annoyed when people treated him like he had rabies. They had every right to be afraid of him. He was in a gang, for fuck’s sake. Try to dress it up however you wanted, but regardless of the fact that every King was a veteran, every King was also part of a criminal organization.
I strode toward Gran’s room wearing my own Fuck You face, regretting my decision to let him come. This was why I shouldn’t agree to anything right after sex; the hormones left my brain dick-addled and incapable of making good choices.
The hallway was empty around us, the sound of our shoes loud on the tile floor. Suddenly there was a jerk on my arm, and I found myself pressed against the wall, Jakob looming up in front of me. Here, in broad daylight and when I was already annoyed with him, it wasn’t nearly as hot as it had been last night. I put my hands on his chest and shoved. My leg might give me hell, but I still made it to the gym four times a week, and I had enough muscle and knowledge to move someone even as big as Jakob when I put my mind to it. He stumbled back a few steps, caught off guard. Surprise lit his eyes before he locked his expression down.
“What’s the problem?” he growled.
“We’re not in your apartment anymore,” I said, voice low so it wouldn’t carry. “You do not have permission to grab me whenever you want.”
The look he gave me was pure King. “Fine. But what the fuck is the actual problem?”
“I shouldn’t have agreed to this,” I said. “Everyone here is going to treat me differently from now on because they’ll think we’re dating.”
Once the words were out, I realized how much they made me sound like an asshole. Like I was ashamed of him. That wasn’t it. I couldn’t give a shit what anyone thought; I just didn’t want to listen to everyone’s judgment. My blunt mouth meant that I would call them on it at some point and make the situation even worse.
“Jakob, I –”
“Of fucking course,” he said, cutting me off before I could apologize. “Wouldn’t want anyone to think America’s sweetheart was slumming it with a King.”
I stared at him. “What is that supposed to mean?”
He waved a hand at me. “You look like you’re ready to go to church.”
I glanced down at myself. I wore a high-waisted, ankle-length flowy skirt with a fitted tank top tucked into it that made my boobs look amazing. I thought I looked pretty good, and part of the reason I chose this outfit was because of how I thought Jakob might react to it. This was not the response I hoped for. His words left me cold, and now I felt like an idiot for wanting to impress him.
“You’re one to talk about clothing choices,” I said, my temper flaring to life. “You’re wearing head-to-toe black leather in eighty-degree weather.”
“To keep me safe if I wreck the bike,” he bit out.
I spread my arms. “We’re inside. No threat of a fall here. Yet you keep that jacket on 24/7 because heaven forbid people not recognize you as a King.”
He stepped in close, voice low with anger. “I am a fucking King, whether I wear the jacket or not.”
I opened my mouth to snap at him and realized it wasn’t worth it. “You should go,” I said instead.
His eyes bored into mine like a subarctic drill. “No.”
“I don’t need you here to get Gran tested, and the thought of play-acting like you’re my boyfriend in front of her after this makes me want to puke.”
He dropped his voice even lower. “You need me, and you know it. You’re poking your nose into some shit here. Get over your pissiness with me and think about it, Krista. You say anything to your doctor about a drug dealer on staff without a King to back you up, and you’ll make a huge target out of yourself. Anyone stupid enough to fuck with The Kings will have no problem silencing one nosey woman.”
“I can take care of myself,” I said.
He snorted. “The fuck you can. Any fighter worth their salt could spot that bum leg from a mile away. It’s the first thing I’d hit, and you know if a man my size landed one good kick, you’d be fucked.”
I curled my fingers into fists, nails digging into my palms. Goddamn him. “You are such an asshole.”
His answering grin was as cold as his eyes. “I never claimed to be anything else.”
No, he hadn’t. I was the idiot who’d misinterpreted a few moments of basic human decency as evidence that there was more to Jakob Larson than met the eye.
I wouldn’t make that mistake again.
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.