Jakob flicked the lights on as he strode into his apartment. I scooped my purse from the floor and followed a few steps behind him.
The Kings of Kearny were a rowdy bunch, the kind of men and women who were more concerned with their badass reputations than they were with aesthetics. I figured Jakob’s place would be sparse: a couch, mattress in the corner, dirty clothes strewn about the floor, maybe a coffee table with pizza boxes and empty beer cans crowding the top of it.
His place wasn’t sparse; it was spartan.
The military affects us all in strange ways. If Jakob wasn’t a clean freak before joining, service had turned him into one. His apartment was larger than mine, with an open concept kitchen and living room. Through a door to the right, I caught sight of a gleaming bathroom. Another door stood further down on the same wall. Most likely a bedroom. The few pieces of furniture he had weren’t new or trendy, but they looked well-made and were visibly spotless. Lord only knew what a blacklight might reveal. Jakob had a reputation for more than just violence, and I had a feeling his apartment had been painted floor to ceiling by his past sexual encounters.
The only thing that didn’t fit was Daniel King. He sat in the middle of the couch with his arms spread over the top of it, taking up as much room as humanly possible. If I uploaded a picture of him to Twitter with the comment, “look at the manspread on this one,” I’d get ten thousand responses from fed-up women within an hour. Road dust clung to his riding leathers. He’d propped his dirty boots on the coffee table like he owned the place. Between the break-in and his body language, the message was clear: I have no respect for you or your shit.
The man was in his late forties, and damn it if he didn’t look good for his age. He wore his raven black hair long enough to show that it had a bit of a curl to it. His face was made to grace wanted posters. Three-day stubble covered his strong jaw. Those dark, piercing eyes landed on me, and I almost shuddered. There was a sardonic set to his lips that made me feel like someone had just told him a dirty joke about me, and now he was picturing me naked.
He’d helped himself to one of Jakob’s beers, and as we walked in, he lifted it to his lips and took a long swig, watching us over the top of it. Something about his expression reminded me of one of those cats you see on YouTube that just knocked a glass off a table for no apparent reason other than to be an asshole and was now looking at its owner like, “The fuck are you going to do about it, Stacey?”
I moved closer to Jakob and stashed my gun back in my purse.
“I don’t speak army,” Daniel said, grinning. “That was funny.”
I forced myself to smile at him. “Thanks.”
As if it was an everyday occurrence to have your gang leader break into your apartment, Jakob hung his keys by the door and shrugged out of his jacket. The dark t-shirt he wore beneath it clung to his muscles in a way that would have had me drooling if not for our audience. His arms were sleeved in tattoos. My gaze stuck on them for a second. With some heavily-tattooed people, you can tell that they didn’t plan their ink out in advance, but had it slapped together piecemeal. The result can be a jarring mix of styles and patterns. Jakob must have taken meticulous care designing his. They featured a military theme throughout, and each tattoo flowed so seamlessly into the next that it looked like one cohesive masterpiece of ink. It must have taken him years to complete and, judging from the quality, cost nearly as much as his bike.
He paused beside the fridge and turned to Daniel. “Need another beer?”
“Yeah,” Daniel said.
Jakob’s gaze cut to me. His voice softened and dropped half an octave, into something low and husky. “Want a beer, babe?”
I stood stock-still, staring at him. Babe?
His eyes flashed with some unspoken warning, and I decided to go along with this plot twist like I had all the other insanity of the evening.
“Sure,” I said.
Nothing to see here, folks. Just three rational adults having a normal conversation after one of said adults broke into another of said adults’ apartments without explanation.
I snagged the beer from Jakob and twisted the top off, happy to have something to do with my hands. It cut down on the temptation to reach for my gun again. This whole situation was off. Why had Daniel kicked in Jakob’s door? And why wasn’t Jakob calling him out on it? There were so many undercurrents running between the two men that it felt like I was about to be caught in the riptide and dragged out to sea with them.
Jakob’s paranoia in the parking lot suddenly seemed a lot more understandable.
“How was your shift, Krista?” Daniel asked.
A shiver of dread ran through me when he said my name. “It was good, Mr. King.”
He nodded like all was as it should be in his realm.
I took a deep pull of my beer. He’d made a point to use my name. It set my teeth on edge because up until this point, I’d never spoken to the man and didn’t think he even knew I existed. Whenever he came into Charley’s, he sat in a special booth in the back that we kept permanently reserved for him. He was too important to come to the bar for his drinks. Instead, he had his flunkies fetch them for him.
I wasn’t naïve; this wasn’t just some casual inquiry into my night. He wanted me to know that he knew who I was. For some reason, it felt like a threat. Why? Because I was here with Jakob? Was there a rift in The Kings after all, and these were the two men causing it? If so, I had just unintentionally placed myself on Jakob’s side.
The wheels in my head started spinning. If Jakob’s paranoia was warranted and someone had been watching us in the parking lot, then they were probably loyal to Daniel, which meant that word would get back to him about how close we’d been. I was willing to bet that was why Jakob called me babe. That’s what his warning look was about; he wanted me to continue to play along with what we’d started downstairs.
It put me in an uncomfortable position. Charley’s name might be on my paychecks, but I knew who I really worked for. If I did anything to piss Daniel off or make him distrust me, I’d be out of a job and out on my ass. But what if I was reading the situation wrong? What if there was something else going on? Some other reason Jakob wanted to keep up this ruse?
I leaned against the kitchen counter and took another long sip of my beer, my mind working on overdrive. Jakob grabbed two more beers out of the fridge and headed toward his gang leader. He handed one over, and the two men clinked glasses. Then he came back and leaned against the counter beside me, so close our hips touched. He took a sip from his beer and casually draped a heavy arm over my shoulder, like he did this all the time, like he owned me or something, and even though part of me wanted to shrug free from the embrace, I stayed where I was.
I might not know Jakob very well, but I believed him when he said he wouldn’t hurt me. Daniel, on the other hand, I didn’t know at all, and if he’d said those same words to me, I never would have believed them.
Guess that made me Team Jakob.
I adopted a dopey expression and smiled up at him like a woman deep into the infatuation phase of a crush. He looked down and met my eyes, and his resting Fuck You face turned into something more like I Am Going to Fuck You and You Are Going to Come Screaming My Name. This close, there was no way he could miss the way I shivered in response.
His eyes still locked on mine, he lifted his beer and took a sip. I shouldn’t have been so turned on by the sight – I watched a bar full of bikers repeat this same motion ad nauseam night after night – but as Jakob pulled the beer away and wiped his thumb across his full lower lip, my gaze drifted down and latched onto the movement. Those lips twitched, just once, and I caught a flash of what might have been amusement in his eyes before he blinked, and suddenly I was staring up at a man with as much expression as a block of ice.
As if he hadn’t just set my blood on fire, he broke our gaze and turned back to the man on the couch. “What’s up?”
Goddamn it, I’d completely forgotten about Daniel for a second there.
I shook my head to clear it and took another pull from my beer. This is what I got for standing so close to my own personal thirst trap.
“That thing with Mike didn’t pan out,” Daniel said.
“Mike who?” Jakob asked.
“Mike Kaschak,” Daniel said, glancing around the apartment. “I thought he might be here.”
Jakob’s face remained neutral, but his arm stiffened around me, and I knew the words hit him harder than he let on. My spidey senses tingled. Was this why Daniel had done a bit of B&E?
“Haven’t seen him,” Jakob said.
Daniel drained his first beer and started in on the second. “You’ll let me know if you do?”
Daniel’s lips twitched up in a lopsided smile. His white teeth flashed against the sun-darkened skin of his face. He really was a handsome bastard, but I didn’t need five minutes to figure out whether or not I would sleep with him. With Jakob, my inner cavewoman had weighed the safety of a one-night stand and decided it would be worth the risk. Daniel, on the other hand, sent her screaming back into her cave.
He looked between Jakob and me. “So. You two.”
“Us two,” Jakob said.
Bikers, loquacious people.
“Must be new,” Daniel said. “Hadn’t heard anything about you.”
Jakob shrugged. “Krista’s a private person.”
Which implied that this wasn’t a new thing and that we wanted to keep it a secret. And Jakob just told the man with the most power in town about it. If I knew anything about people in power, it’s that they reveled in lording it over the rest of us. It made them terrible secret-keepers because, in their need to put themselves above others, they’d often use people they deemed as inferior to them as stepping stones. It was all too easy to see Daniel telling his other enforcers about this just to show off the fact that he, the king, had known about us, while they had no idea. I had a sinking feeling that come this time tomorrow, everyone in Kearny would be gossiping about Jakob and me.
Daniel’s grin gained a sharp edge, like a shark smelling blood in the water. His dark eyes shifted to mine. “You should come by sometime for dinner. Eva would love to have another set of hands in the kitchen.”
Eva was his wife – a tall, striking woman of Armenian and Mexican descent that I’d only ever glimpsed through a crowd. I was tempted to tell him I didn’t cook, even though I was a whiz around a stove. Offhand comments like his always drove me bugfuck, an assumption of “womanly duties” that men like him were prone to making. The subliminal message was: come to my house and cook me dinner while I sit on my ass and do nothing. Because penis.
Don’t be an idiot, I told myself. I needed to be in this man’s good graces if I wanted to keep my job, and even though it killed a small part of me to do it, I smiled at him. “I’d like that.”
It was only when Jakob’s arm relaxed around me that I realized it had stiffened again.
Daniel’s gaze shifted to his enforcer. “What happened to your face?”
I looked up. Jakob had taken Rob’s punch to the left cheek, and even though he’d iced it, it looked more swollen than it had outside and was starting to take on a sickly-looking puce hue.
“Micky and Rob got into it again,” Jakob said.
Daniel swore. “They trash the place?”
Jakob shook his head. “It broke up before anything started.”
His face evidence to the contrary.
“Good,” Daniel said, rising from his throne. He drained the rest of his beer and set it down on the table. “I’ll leave you two lovebirds alone.”
He shot me a wink as he left that made me want to puke.
I tried to step away from Jakob when the door closed behind Daniel, but his arm tightened around me, holding me in place. We stayed there for several minutes, listening to Daniel’s boots echo in the stairwell. Only when the door to the building slammed behind him did Jakob drop his arm from my shoulder and push off the counter.
I watched him as he moved toward the door, quieter than a man his size had any right to be. The frame was cracked like Daniel had barged in with brute force, but there was a series of locks higher up that could only be latched from the inside, and those were still intact. Jakob flicked them into place. For good measure, he wedged a chair against the knob.
“Get comfortable,” he said, turning back to me. “You’re staying here tonight.”
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.