Authors: Sabrina Stark
Turns out, the guy was her boss – some pencil-necked twerp with an attitude. He'd been giving Chloe a hard time for five minutes now, and I wasn't liking it.
My hands were loose, but twitchy at my side. I was aching to hit someone. Whether the guy knew it or not, he was skating on thin ice.
The only thing that kept me from striding forward to give him a taste of his own medicine was the sure knowledge that Chloe wouldn't like it. So I stood a few feet away, watching him with open hostility until he stopped short when he noticed me standing there.
His eyes widened. "Hey, aren't you–"
"Yeah," I said, flicking my head toward Chloe. "Chloe's boyfriend."
She whirled to face me. "You are not."
Everyone was looking. I didn't care. If I had to, I'd beg her right here, right now. I reached for her hand. She blinked hard and pulled her hand away. But she didn't leave. That was a start, right?
Somewhere near my car, I heard Shaggy ask someone, "Hey Dude, can I borrow your phone?"
"Screw you," the guy said.
"Aw c'mon," Shaggy said. "Be a sport, will ya?"
"You touch that phone," the redhead said, "and you're a dead man."
Shaggy groaned theatrically. "Aw c'mon, Jen!"
I ignored it all and gave Chloe a pleading look. All I needed was a chance. "Please," I whispered.
Something in her eyes warmed, and for the briefest moment, I was almost sure I'd get it – another shot at being the guy she deserved.
But then, her dipshit of a boss cleared his throat, and she turned to look.
"Chloe," he said through clenched teeth, "might I speak with you a moment?"
been speaking to her. And not very nicely either. If he treated her like garbage in front of a crowd, I couldn’t help but wonder – and not in a good way – how he treated her when no one was looking.
Before Chloe could answer, the guy turned and gave the crowd a long, irritated look. "In private."
With a heavy sigh, Chloe turned back to me and said, "You should go."
I shook my head. "Not before we talk."
"I can't. I've gotta go."
"Then come by later," I said. "Promise me."
With a look filled with regret, she shook her head.
It was that regretful look that made me dig in. I crossed my arms. "Alright." I flicked my gaze to my car. "I'll wait here."
"You can't wait here," she said. "It might be all night."
I shrugged. "I don't care."
She looked around as if weighing her options. Yeah, I was being pushy. I knew that. But I'd make it up to her. I just needed a chance.
Finally, she said, "Alright, fine. I'll stop by. But it might be morning before I get off work."
I felt my shoulders ease. "I'll be waiting."
Nearby, Chloe's boss muttered, "Yeah. Waiting. I know how
"Alright," Chloe told him, "I'm coming!" She turned back to me and said, "Go, alright? Please?"
I gave her something like a nod. I'd be going, but only
she was safely inside. The night was too crazy already, and there were too many people in the parking lot who didn't have Chloe's best interests at heart – the pervert who'd been looking at her ass, the shaggy guy with the phone fetish, and shit, even Brittney, lurking in the back of some Lincoln Town Car.
What the hell was that about?
Looking to keep an eye out, I sauntered back to my own car and stood, watching as Chloe and her boss walked a few car-lengths away and began talking too low for me to hear.
The way it looked, he was still giving her a hard time. I knew it wasn't any of my business, but I still didn't like it. I'd seen his type before – a big fish in a little pond, the kind of fish that got his rocks off by throwing his weight around.
I leaned against the battered hood of my car and crossed my arms. Didn't the guy know? There was always a bigger fish.
Finally, they finished talking, and together, they turned toward the restaurant. Halfway there, Chloe glanced over her shoulder, and our eyes met across the distance.
She might not know it, but she was still my girl. And somehow, I was going to win her back.
Brittney was pouting again. "I still don't see why it has to be tonight."
Technically, it wasn't night. It was morning, nearly four o'clock, just a couple of hours after I'd seen Chloe in the restaurant parking lot.
I still didn't know what time she got off work, but I wasn't taking any chances. When she stopped by, I'd be ready.
So would Brittney, because Chloe was going to get that apology, even if I had to sit here for hours, listening to Brittney gripe about it.
We were sitting in a side-room just off the front entryway, near the front door for when Chloe showed up. I had a plan. Get Brittney's apology out of the way and then send her packing, pronto. I even had a driver at the ready just to make it nice and easy.
In the chair opposite me, Brittney gave another loud sigh. "Can't we turn on some music or something?"
"How about the TV?"
She made a sound of annoyance. "Why not?"
"Because this isn't a social call."
"What the hell is a social call?"
I shrugged. Shit, I didn't know. But I did know one thing, I was
going to give Chloe the impression that Brittney and I were hanging out for fun.
I glanced around. Even this room wasn't one I normally spent any time in. It was a small sitting area with slim, delicate furniture that my decorator had picked out, not for comfort, but for looks.
My chair was too small and uncomfortable as hell. When all this was over, I decided, I'd throw everything out and start over.
Maybe, I'd get lucky, and Chloe and I could shop together, see what
liked. If I got really lucky, this might be her house, too, someday. At the thought, I almost smiled.
"Got anything to drink?" Brittney asked.
"Oh come on." She slouched down in her chair. "Now you're just being rude."
"Yeah? Well, I
rude. So get over it."
"Oh fine," she muttered. "I guess I'll just die of thirst."
I glanced toward the front door.
Come on, Chloe. You're still showing, right?
We'd been sitting for almost another hour when I finally heard a car pulling into the drive. I shot out of my chair and flung open the front door.
It was only Bishop, getting out of a cab. I waited, watching as he paid the driver and began sauntering toward me while the cab backed out of the drive.
Bishop eyed me, standing in the doorway. "Nice of you to wait up for me."
He wasn't stupid. We both knew I wasn't waiting up for
. I glanced toward the street, hoping to see that little red Fiesta pulling in where the cab had just left.
I saw nothing.
Bishop's voice cut into my thoughts. "She's still at work."
"Yeah," he said. "Probably for a couple more hours."
"And you know this, how?"
He shrugged. "Caught a bus-boy at the dumpster."
I didn't ask for details. His information was always good. With a quick glance behind me, I stepped outside and shut the door. "Someone's here."
"Yeah?" His eyebrows lifted. "This should be good."
He paused. "Brittney?"
"She's here to apologize."
"Tonight? How'd that happen?"
I gave him a brief run-down, explaining how, after my last conversation with Chloe, I'd found Brittney exactly where I'd seen her earlier, in the back of that Lincoln Town Car. I'd practically dragged her over here, determined to get that apology done and over with – for Chloe's sake.
"But why tonight?" Bishop asked.
"Because Chloe deserves that. Don't you think?"
He was shaking his head. "Bad idea."
"Oh yeah?" I crossed my arms. "Why?"
"Let me ask you this. Do you trust her?"
"Brittney? Hell no. That's why I'm making her apologize tonight, before she tries to slide out of it." My voice grew quieter. "And, I don't want Chloe to worry."
He looked at me like I was nuts. "About some apology?"
I felt my jaw tighten. "It's more than that, and you know it." From where I was standing, I couldn’t see Chloe's house, but I could envision it well enough. Earlier tonight, she'd been attacked right there in her own front yard. She'd been dragged to the ground and held against her will.
I couldn’t stand the thought of Chloe being afraid, not just earlier, but every time she pulled into her own driveway or went outside to walk her dog. She needed to know, once and for all, that it wasn't going to happen again.
If nothing else, I owed her that.
She wasn't like me. She hadn't grown up in a shitty neighborhood where looking over your shoulder was an everyday thing. She wasn't used to it. And the way I saw it, she shouldn't have to
used to it.
I felt my fingers flex. Fucking Brittney.
I was still stewing about it when I heard the front door fly open behind me. I turned to see Brittney standing in the open space. When her gaze landed on Bishop, she smiled. "Hey, Bish."
Bishop gave her a long, cold look. "Britt."
Her smile faltered. "You coming inside? We could have drinks or something." Her gaze slid to me, and her eyes narrowed. "And I don't mean water."
A minute later, we were all inside, sitting in the same area as before. Brittney, clutching a glass of tap-water, was sulking again. She frowned at Bishop. "Why is everyone in such a bad mood tonight?"
Bishop ignored her and turned toward me. "Check this out. I learned what they told the cops."
"Who?" Brittney asked. "Joey and Paul?"
Bishop gave her a cold look. "I wasn't talking to you."
Her mouth tightened. "You know, I thought Lawton was rude, but you're like rude times a million."
"Good to know." Bishop turned back to me and said, "The way I heard it, their story wasn't half-bad. You saw how it played out, right?"
I shook my head. I hadn't seen. When those guys had been freed from the trunk, I'd been on the other side of the building, searching for Chloe.
"Get this." Bishop grinned. "So, some tow-truck driver shows up to pop the trunk, with like a hundred people watching, and those guys jump out, wearing what?"
As the person who'd put them in the trunk, I knew the answer firsthand. "Their underwear."
"And?" Bishop said.
I shrugged. "Their jewelry."
Brittney leaned forward. "Yeah, Joey and Paul, they're like total bling-masters." She nodded like this was a good thing. "They have awesome taste."
I gave her a look, but said nothing. Yeah, they had taste alright, like disco kings from the '70s.
Bishop was still grinning. "I'm not talking about the jewelry. I'm talking about the masks."
I shook my head. "What masks?"
I frowned. They'd been wearing those masks when they'd jumped Chloe. Even without them, she would've been terrified. But those stupid masks of theirs, thick, knitted things with only slits for eyes, made the two guys wearing them look more like executioners than idiots on a fake-kidnapping mission.
At the time, what did Chloe think? Did she think she was going to die? My fingers gripped the side of my chair. Those assholes. I knew where their masks belonged, and it sure as hell wasn't on their heads.
"You listening?" Bishop asked.
I looked up. "What?"
they were wearing the damn things when they popped out of the trunk. You should've seen 'em." He shook his head. "Underwear, bling, and ski masks. They looked like idiots."
idiots, because they'd messed with the wrong girl. I heard myself say, "I didn't realize they still had them."
"The masks?" Bishop said. "Eh, we must've left them in the trunk. Anyway, the way it looks, they put on the masks, hoping to hide their faces."
Brittney spoke up. "But you got them back, right?"
Bishop and I turned to look. It was Bishop who asked, "Got what back?"
"The masks," she said.
I stared at her. "What?"
"They were mine," she said. "I need them back."
Suddenly, I heard a snap. I looked down to see a crack in the right-arm of my chair. My knuckles were white, and the wood was splintered on both sides.
Brittney was still talking. "I paid good money for those things. I mean, they weren't like generic ski-masks. They were designer."
Was she fucking kidding me?
Bishop cleared his throat. "Anyway, what they end up telling the cops is the whole thing was part of some prank gone wrong."
Prank. There was that word again. I said it out loud. "A prank?"
It was the same word that Brittney had used to describe what they'd done to Chloe. If I never heard that word again, it would be too damn soon.
"Yeah," Bishop said. "They tell the cops it's part of some fraternity thing, claim they were supposed to end up at this sorority bash, but got dropped at the wrong place."
"So what?" I said. "That doesn't explain the masks."
"Which," Brittney said, "I still need back, by the way."
Together, Bishop and I turned to look. Under our silent gazes, she shifted in her seat. "Well, I do. I mean, I didn't
them to Joey and Paul. It was just a loan. They were supposed to give them back when they were done."
I heard another snap. I looked down to see a matching crack on the other chair arm.
Bishop glanced at the chair. "You wanna hear the rest later?" The corners of his mouth lifted. "Like when you're sitting on a couch or something."
"Oh, fuck off," I muttered.
With a longer look at the chair, he continued, "So they tell the cops they're wearing the masks because they were supposed to do some panty-raid, burglar skit at this sorority house – Amber's actually. But because of some mix-up, they end up at the restaurant instead."
"And you learned all of this how?" I asked.
He shrugged. "I've got a friend on the force."
"And he believed that bullshit story?"
"The guy's not stupid," Bishop said. "He knows a load of bull when he hears it, but who's complaining? The only 'victims' were the guys in the trunk." Bishop hesitated. "Well, them and the poor saps who had to look at them."
I recalled the one guy's underwear, tiny black briefs a few sizes too small. No doubt, the crowd had gotten a good eye-full.
"Besides," Bishop added, "someone backed up their story, so there you have it."
"Who?" I asked.
"Amber," he said. "I got ahold of her, walked her through it."
I sat back in the chair. During the last two hours, he'd gotten a lot done. As for me, I'd been sitting here, listening to Brittney whine about crap that didn't matter.
And now, she was frowning again. She turned to Bishop. "Wait a minute," she said. "How'd
get ahold of Amber? I've been calling her all night. It's like she's avoiding me or something."
"Yeah?" Bishop said. "Maybe it's a hint, and you should take it."
Brittney scowled. "What's
supposed to mean?"
Bishop stood. "You wanna know? Ask her." He glanced toward the stairway. "Anyway, I'm heading to bed."
Brittney was suddenly all smiles. "Want some company?"
"From you?" he said. "Hell no."
Brittney drew back. "God, what's your problem?"
He glanced toward me. "Sloppy seconds aren't my thing."
"Hey!" she said. "I'm not sloppy." Her gaze narrowed as she looked in my direction. "And besides, all I ever did was blow him. And that was for like two whole seconds before he flipped out because of 'dog girl.'"
I stood. "For the last time, her name is Chloe."
"See?" Brittney said, turning to Bishop. "He's flipping out. Just like I said."
I shoved a hand through my hair. What the hell had I been thinking? The way it sounded, Chloe was still at least two hours from showing up. For all I knew, she might not show up at all, considering how late she'd be working.
And, with every hour, Brittney was getting more difficult. As for myself, I could take her crap just fine, but what if she gave that same attitude to Chloe?
I gave Brittney a hard look. "You wanna see flipping out?" I raised my index finger. "You say
thing to upset Chloe, and you're gonna regret it, just like I told you in the parking lot."
Again, she turned to Bishop. "See what I mean?"
Bishop's gaze shifted from Brittney to me. "Want me to get rid of her?" he asked.
"Hey!" Brittney said, turning to glare at
now. "No one 'gets rid' of Brittney Adams." She eyed the door. "That's it. I'm outta here."
"Go ahead," I told her. "No one's stopping you."
It was true. Even before Bishop had showed up, it wasn't like I'd been holding Brittney by force. Yeah, I wanted her to apologize. And yeah, sooner was better than later. But with every hour, the odds of her doing a decent job of it were falling fast.
If she wanted to storm out now, maybe that wasn't such a bad thing.
She didn't storm out. Instead, she glanced toward the front door. "But I don't have a ride."
"Wrong," I told her. "I've got a driver waiting. You wanna go? He'll be here in thirty seconds." I pulled out my phone and started tapping out a text.
"Wait!" Brittney said.
I looked up and waited, not bothering to hide my impatience.
"But where would he take me?"
"Home, Amber's, wherever. Not my problem."
She bit her lip. "But…" She hesitated. "I might be locked out."
"Again, not my problem."
nice." Her bottom lip quivered, and her eyes began to water. "This whole night has totally sucked. You know, I'm only here because you
me to be here."
She looked to Bishop and choked back a sob. "It's like the middle of the night, and I’m just really tired, you know?" With a long sigh, she plopped back onto her chair and gazed up at the ceiling. "And your brother's being mean to me."
Bishop and I exchanged a look.
Well, someone had to ask it. Apparently, that someone was me. "Which brother?" I said. "Me? Or him?"
In truth, we'd both been "mean" to her. But it wasn't like she didn't deserve it. So what if she'd had a shitty night? She'd put Chloe through worse.
She never answered my question. Instead, she gave another loud sniffle and said, "Maybe I could just nap or something?"
"Or maybe," I said, "you could just leave."
Yeah, I was being a dick. But she didn't deserve anything better, not after what she'd done to Chloe.
"But if I leave, I can't apologize." Her voice became earnest. "And I really want to. Honest. I mean, I might as well get it over with, right?" She wiped at her eyes. "You know, I've been up for twenty hours?"
know. And I didn't care all that much either. I wasn't even sure I believed her. But it
after four o'clock in the morning, so her story wasn't that far-fetched.
Thinking of Chloe, I weighed the benefits of having Brittney stick around, if only to put Chloe's mind at ease.
As if sensing my doubts, Brittney spoke up. "Aw, come on. I really do want to make it right, honest." She gave another pathetic sniffle. "I just need to lay down for a few minutes, that's all."
The way it looked, I had three choices – give up on the apology, show her to a guest room, or sit here, watching her cry and whine until Chloe showed up.
I looked toward the stairway. "Second room on the left."
A minute later, she was safely upstairs and out of my sight. As for Bishop, he stuck around only long enough to say, "You're gonna regret that."
And sure enough, he was right, because when Chloe finally showed up a couple of hours later, I learned the hard way what a dumb-ass I'd been to let Brittney stick around.