with as much curiosity as he was probably able to muster.
“You have people breaking the rules, robbing those who’ve paid like they were supposed to.”
That bushy brow went up higher, and Shaughnessy narrowed his rodent-like eyes on me.
“That trouble last night was you, big boy? You scared those kids pretty bad.”
“Kids,” I spat, not bothering to mask my disgust.
“What’s your interest in that shitty joint?”
I curled a lip in disgust, but quickly got myself under control. “No interest, but if people pay and still get robbed, the whole thing falls apart. And isn’t it your job to make sure that that doesn’t happen?”
“Yeah, but if people don’t pay without consequences, the whole thing still falls apart. I’m a nice guy, so I cut them some slack after the change in ownership, but my guys say the new girl has been a little…reluctant with her payments, and I figured a reminder of what happens when you don’t pay rent was in order. You know how it goes,” he said, again slapping my shoulder.
I did, but that didn’t keep me from wanting to break every bone in his fucking body.
“Call of your dogs, Shaughnessy. That place is off-limits.”
The words were growled and barely intelligible, but he got the message and raised his hands and pushed them toward me.
“Fine, whatever you say. Tell her not to worry about the money; it would be a mockery of our friendship if I took money from your lady. I wish I’d known because she could have avoided that unpleasantness.”
He shrugged and then his expression turned lecherous. “I guess a guy your size would like a bigger girl, and I’ll admit, I like to take a poke at a black one from time to time myself.”
He nudged me conspiratorially, and winked, and my hands threaded tight around his throat before I knew it. I squeezed, resisting the temptation to crush his larynx, but just barely.
“Off-limits, Shaughnessy. Forget she even exists,” I said.
He swatted at my wrists, trying to pry my hand away to no effect. I held on, increasing the pressure incrementally as I waited.
“Fine,” he finally choked out.
“Good,” I said, and then I pushed him away.
The other man’s eyes glittered with fear—and rage—as he adjusted his shirt and shooed the others who approached, guns drawn, away.
“Someone should teach you some manners,” he said smoothly, mask back in place in the blink of an eye.
“It won’t be you,” I said, and then I turned and left.
I was five blocks away when my phone rang.
“Shaughnessy called already?” I asked.
“Said I needed to keep my dog on a leash before he got hurt,” the boss said.
“He should do the same,” I said.
“Is this something I should be concerned with?” the boss asked.
“No. It’s handled.”
“Make sure it is,” he said and then hung up.
I blew out a frustrated breath. I’d fucked up, let Shaughnessy, and my concern for April, cloud my judgment, which only proved, as if there was a question, I needed to stay away from her.
I lasted three days.
It felt like three years.
Every second without her was torture, the minutes seeming almost unending. I’d been with her only once, but she was in my blood all the same. The awareness that I should leave her alone, take that day that we’d had together and cherish it but keep my distance, fought valiantly against the spirit-deep necessity of seeing her once more.
But it lost.
So despite the awareness, despite my knowledge that there could never be anything between us, and even worse, that being near her would eventually put her in danger, I couldn’t stay away.
And so I returned to the restaurant, calm and happiness so potent that I had to ignore it filling me. I took my usual seat, and April walked over to me and left the plate with pie, fork, and a cup of coffee in front of me. And then she went back to what she’d been doing before I’d entered, turning chairs up onto the tables as she did every night at