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Authors: Holly S. Roberts

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BOOK: Strike (Completion Series)
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Chapter Six

 

I thought I’d been kissed before
, but I was so wrong. Those boys made weak bumbling attempts compared to what Reed did with his mouth. He explored mine, his tongue dodging, licking, and seeking. The kiss went on and on, his hand threaded through my hair, his other smoothed over my ear then across my jaw. When he pulled away, he rested his forehead against mine, his heavy breath warm with the delicious smell that matched his taste.

“That wasn’t a very good idea
,” he said without pulling away.

“Then why did you do it?”
A low breathy whisper had replaced my real voice.

He
leaned back, the intensity in his eyes captivated me. “Honestly, I don’t know. You’re still too young for fuck’s sake.”

“For two more months and since you’re such an old man at twenty-
five, I’m sure you’ll be arrested for cradle robbing.” Jon had told me Reed’s age and other interesting tidbits about Mr. Baseball Man.

He
released my hair, moving his hands up my arms until both rested against my throat, his thumbs running along my jaw. “I would have been arrested if I’d done what I wanted to last night. Seeing you taped to the chair was sexy as hell.”

My heart fluttered and a
tiny smile curved my lips. “You’re kinky.”

He groaned. “You’re impossible.”

“What if I’m kinky?”

“What if you get out of the car and walk inside your trailer without looking back
? I shouldn’t have kissed you.”

It hurt
, even if I knew he was right. I wasn’t one of the raving beauties he was accustomed to, but I could hold my own. Where our worlds separated was my trailer and his mansion. His career and my dead-end job. His goodness and my burglarizing his home. I opened the car door and got out, walking quickly to my front door without looking back. He didn’t stop me or give me whatever it was in the trunk he’d mentioned. That was okay, because I didn’t want anything to remind me of what I couldn’t have.

***

Jon leveled me with a stare; I knew he’d heard Reed’s car, but he didn’t mention it. “You did the right thing, sis.”

He was such a great kid
, who happened to be a man because of circumstances. He acted nothing like his age and that was sad in itself. I cooked a special dinner of mac-n-cheese and meatballs. Jon’s and Bitsy’s favorite. It was something our mother fed us when she’d taken time to cook. My meatballs were the frozen variety, unlike her homemade ones, but it worked.

“Don
Gato has a belly ache and doesn’t feel good tonight.” Bitsy’s eyes beseeched me to do something.

I knew
the old Tomcat had nine lives and had probably used up eight of them, but he’d been with us since we moved into our dilapidated tin box.

“He’ll be fine
, Bitsy. I’m sure he ate a sour mouse or something.”

Her eyes lit up. “Are mice sour?”

Jon laughed and ruffled her hair. “You tell us. I think Jaycee put one in our dinner.”

“She did not.”

“Did so.”

Was I just thinking Jon was growing up? “Okay, let’s get the table cleared off and get our homework and studying finished. I think we’re on a really good chapter of Harry Potter and it’s your turn to read
, Jon.”

“Sure
, but I need help with my geometry. How come polygons come so easy to you?”

“It’s all about the formulas you never take the time to
learn.” We’d had this discussion many times.

“Why should I when I have you to help me out?”

“You won’t have me in college. Let’s get started. He who should not be named awaits us.” I ignored the tightening of Jon’s expression after my mention of college. We weren’t going there tonight. He was getting out of this life if it killed me and then he would get Bitsy out. 

We performed our nightly rituals—cleaned the dishes, finished our homework
, and sat down on the couch with a book. I had given up my longing for a television years ago. Reading gave us everything we needed and the library provided free entertainment. It also reminded us of our mother. When she wasn’t out tramping around looking for the perfect man to solve all her problems, she loved to read to us at night. Her soft voice wrapped us into the world of history, adventure, and fantasy. Mom was so far from perfect, but we had good memories and I was a poor substitute for her. But even with my failed attempt at giving us a small amount of financial stability, we would make it.

***

The following day I worked the late shift. We closed at ten and then had an hour of cleanup and prep for the next day’s crew, which included me because I was on the early schedule. I took any and all hours I could. For a dead-end job, Tasty Burger wasn’t that bad. I liked the people I worked with even though they tended to be unreliable. Their undependability gave me more hours and I needed the money. I spoke to Dwaine, my manager, about working only days so I could look for an evening job.

“Have you thought about management
, Jaycee? It’s long hours, but it pays better than you make right now. I know a long-term career at Tasty Burger isn’t anyone’s dream, but you wouldn’t need to go back and forth between two jobs.”

I like
d Dwaine. He was in his fifties, divorced, and a recovering alcoholic. He blew a great career, but still managed to smile and enjoy his job. He always called me first when he needed help, and gave me Christmas gifts for Jon and Bitsy, saying they were from Santa. His grown children didn’t have a lot to do with him. He’d told me his story one Christmas Eve when we worked alone. I invited him to my small celebration the following day, but he declined. He told me he worked the AA hotline all day and night on Christmas because it was hard for a lot of people like him. Sober, Dwaine was one of the few good men I’d ever met. I hoped I never saw the side of him that had ruined his life.

I locked the front door behind me, leaving
Dwaine inside to finish up. I needed to catch the bus. It was no warmer the night before and I really missed my hoodie.

F
ootsteps approached. I took a step back, ready to turn and run toward the front door.

“It’s me
, Reed. I brought you a jacket.” His voice was so low and sexy. He must practice it for hours. No one could just sound that good.

“You brought me a jacket? Here at Tasty Burger
? Do you know what time it is?”

He didn’t answer me until the warm material
surrounded my shoulders. God, it smelled like him.

Mild irritation was in his voice
. “I know it’s too late for you to be out here alone.”

I laugh
ed at that.

Different worlds.

“Is this your idea of some old Chinese proverb… burglarizing your house means you owe the burglar protection?”

I couldn’t see his smile in the shadows
, but I heard it by the lighter sound of his voice. “Could be. Come on, I’m driving you home.”

I dug
in my heels. “This needs to stop.”

“What needs to stop…this?”

Dammit, he did it again. He grabbed the sides of the jacket and drew me into his body. His lips were cool and I realized he’d waited outside for a while. Then, I forgot all about anything but his mouth because his tongue was hot. He ran it across my lower lip, licking me like cream before seeking more. His taste hadn’t changed. If anything, it was muskier, hotter, and oh so addictive. Trapped between the jacket and his solid chest, my hands went around his waist, feeling solid muscle beneath my fingers. I couldn’t think—all I could do was experience.

P
ulling back, he did the forehead to forehead thing again. Even that was sexy and perfect. Everything about him was perfect, which is why I knew he wasn’t for me.

“I’m taking you home.” He opened
the jacket enough to slip my arms into the sleeves, zipping it after arranging me to his liking.

He gave
a brief tug on my hand and I sighed loudly, but it didn’t stop him from pulling me along.

“Can I drive?”

He didn’t even look at me. “You don’t have a license, so no.”

“You would let me drive if I did?”

“No.”

“You’re an ass.”

“Probably, but I also like my Porsche in one piece, thank you very much.”

Pounding
music prevailed the entire ride to my trailer. Didn’t the man listen to anything but loud heavy metal? So maybe he wasn’t perfect.

Chapter Seven

 

He
shut off his car as soon as he pulled up in front of the trailer. The sudden quiet, though welcome, made me uncomfortable. I placed my hand on the door handle.

“Could we talk for a minute?” His sexy voice had dipped to
an even lower tone. Shivers ran across my skin.

“Talking won’t change anything.”

“This talk might.” He sounded so sure of himself.

I turned
to face him. “Look, Reed, I’m not going to be your girlfriend. I don’t need rides home or your jackets.” I was such a liar. I never wanted to give up the jacket enveloping me in warmth and his scent. I wanted to roll in his smell, coating my body with Reed Tyler.

“I’d like you to work for me.”

Well that made me laugh. “Doing what? Your laundry, cleaning?”

“Don’t you think it’s a better gig than Tasty Burger?”

I’d said my last words as a joke, but, God, he was serious. “I am not going to be your maid. The idea is ridiculous.”

“Just hear me out.”

“No.” Why did he always bring my pride to the forefront?

“I have an apartment over the garage. It has two bedrooms. Jon could sleep inside the main house and you and Bitsy could have separate rooms.”

It took my brain about five seconds to put two and two together. Once I understood, pride was the last thing I felt. A slow, angry buzz built in my brain.

It made perfect sense
: baseball player, too much money, an easy lay whenever he had the need. “You want a live-in whore?”

His voice exploded in the car
. “You drive me crazy. No, I don’t want a live-in whore.” He took a deep breath and spoke one decimal softer. “Spring training starts in two weeks. I’ll be in Florida. I have a cleaning service that comes in once a week, but there’s always something neglected when I’m gone. I need someone to oversee things, let the pest control guy in, make sure the yard is tended by the yard crew. It’s honest work. Your sister and brother need this. You can’t do it all and I have the means to help. Christ, I would just give you the money, but I don’t see you taking it. Instead, you risked your life robbing me and you risked your brother’s and sister’s lives too.”

His words only fueled my anger. “You know nothing about me or my sister and brother. You live in your mansion and think you have the right to butt into my business. Tell me this…did you plan on keeping your hands off me? Are you providing my own room so you can sneak in at night and get a little extra for your money? Is that part of your overall scheme?” Reed Tyler was a creep the same as all the men my mother brought home and that included the three that fathered me and Jon and Bitsy. I threw open the car door and slammed it closed behind me. I ignored the screeching tires and fought back tears. Squaring my shoulders, pushing the internal pain aside, I knocked on the trailer door. The soft crying coming from inside registered at the same time Jon opened the door.

“What’s wrong?” I looked past Jon to Bitsy.

“It’s…it’s…Don Gato.” Tears covered her scrunched up face.

My heart broke. She held the mangy old cat in her arms.

“Oh
, honey, he was very old. It was his time.”

“He’ssss not dead
; he’s sick and he won’t walk.”

Now my heart broke even further. Jon closed the door behind me and I walked over to look at Don Gato. He was lifeless
, but I could see the slight rise and fall of his chest. I didn’t even have money to end his suffering. Life crashed in, but I had to control myself. I angrily wiped a tear from my face.

“You need to go to sleep
, Bitsy. You can’t stay up holding him all night. It won’t make a difference.” And I knew it wouldn’t. It didn’t matter how long I’d held my mother’s hand, she died anyway. She’d left me alone to care for my sister and brother. People died. Cats died and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it in my fucked up life.

An hour later,
I lay down with Bitsy—one arm under her pillow and my other across her small body resting my hand on Don Gato. His small chest continued to rise and fall. I needed him to die by morning. Bitsy didn’t need to go through this any longer. I cried quietly so Jon couldn’t hear. I’d seen Jon’s eyes. He knew the same thing I did.

It sucked to be poor.

***

“He’s still alive
, Jaycee. Can we take him to the doctor?”

I opened my eyes and saw Bitsy
petting Don Gato softly. Couldn’t anything go right for once?

“If you go to school, I’ll take him to the doctor
, honey.” It was the worst possible lie I could tell, but I had to.

“You will?”

“Yes, I will. But I don’t know if the doctor can do anything.”

Her little mouth turned down at the corners and her lips trembled. “Sometimes I think doctors help. Don’t you think
so, Jaycee?”

No, I didn’t think
so. “Yes, honey, sometimes they can help.”


Give my bunny money to the doctor so Don Gato will be better, okay?”

Bitsy didn’t have a piggy bank, hers was a chipped porcelain bunny bank we’d found at the thrift store for a quarter. It had maybe two dollars in it
, but Bitsy had been saving for a long time. Everywhere we went, she searched the ground for pennies. She called it her bunny money.

“Get ready for school and after the bus comes I’ll take Don Gato to the doctor.” I was the worst person on earth. I should never have lied and given her hope
, but I did it anyway.

Bitsy hugged Don Gato goodbye and kissed him on the head.

“Hey, sugar.” I put my fist out. Bitsy added her small one on top of mine and we both looked at Jon. He placed his fist on Bitsy’s and then I put mine on the top. At the same time, we flattened our hands and whispered, “Shhhhhh.” It meant Shumways stick together, have each other’s backs, and take on the world. I came up with the goofy tradition while our mother was dying in the hospital and child services brought Jon and Bitsy to visit. Mom lingered for two months and those weekly visits were the only time I saw my siblings.

Th
ey were the worst days, and no matter how bad things were, they would never be that bad again. I’d see to it.

I watched
Bitsy from the end of the trailer while she waited for the school bus to pick her up. My heart became heavier when the bus pulled away and she gave me a small wave from the window.

“What are you going to do with Don Gato?”

Jon, the realist.

The cat was now laying on a towel on our couch, unmoving, no change good or bad. I’d never killed an animal in my life.

“I’ll take care of it, Jon. You need to get to school too.”

“I can do it
, Jaycee.”

He knew. He understood, and that was as sad as lying to Bitsy.

“I’ve got this, Jon. Go to school.”

He looked at me for a long time before picking up
his black safety pinned backpack and walking out the door. I sat down on the couch, but I couldn’t touch Don Gato. My knees came up and I dropped my head and circled my arms around them. I screamed as loud as I could.

I just needed one fucking thing in our lives to go right.

Only one.

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