I waited at the bottom of the steps in the lobby of our building, Giovanni and Elsie were still absent. I clicked open my phone for the seventh time, waiting for a response from one of my very many texts. Of course, he would accuse me to be the one that would make us late, yet here he was, taking his sweet ass time.
Elsie came barreling through the double doors, frantic.
“Woah, girl. Where’s the party?” I laughed. Instantly, I was no longer bothered by their tardiness, just the state of her being near me put my nerves at ease.
“Jay, I’m so sorry I’m la-....” She looked up and her eyes widened. “Wow. You’re really kind of hot.”
I shook my head a little. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine. But seriously, you clean up good.” She complimented again.
“Only kind of, though, right?” I shoulder bumped her.
I really didn’t think much of my choice of clothes, other than I had spent the entire day playing dress up, and I really just needed a moment to feel like me again. Elsie messed with the strap of my black camisole, that incidentally poked out from underneath my spare leather jacket. I didn’t prefer this jacket, but at least it didn’t have any distinguishable marks. It felt like a second skin, sticking in all the wrong places.
As a matter of fact, I wasn’t sure whether it was the clothing that made me uncomfortable or the fact that Gio insisted on putting us in situations outside of my control. My skinny jeans hugged too tightly, and I felt like at any point my feet would start sweating in my combat boots.
“Oh, hey. You did something with your hair.” Gio quipped up behind us.
I didn’t even turn to offer him more attention than he deserved. “I do that from time to time.”
“I like the curls, Jay.” Elsie interceded.
“Kiss ass.” Gio snorted.
Elsie just stuck out her tongue. It was childish, but I laughed anyways.
“Come on, guys. We’re already late.”
It didn’t take long to reach the SUV and Elsie gasped. “Wow. It’s really nice.”
It was like a kid in a candy store. She ooh’d and ahh’d at the interior when we shuffled in. It was like she hadn’t seen the inside of a vehicle before. It took me a moment to realize, a little sheepishly at that, that Elsie had probably never ridden in something quite as extravagant as one of Black’s personal rides. I felt bad for her.
We arrived at the bar half past, but I remained silent as Giovanni and Elsie swapped insults back and forth for the entire car ride over. I didn’t see a sense in carrying on with them, when my nerves were completely shot. I was probably worrying over nothing, but if I failed to do this job, I would be failing at my life. Dominik Black would hang me by my ankles and watch the blood drain out of my body. I shivered as I slammed the truck in park, looking around instantly for any unknown threat. Elsie already stepped out and closed her door, but Gio remained planted in his seat. He knew the drill.
I nodded once and we exited together. Elsie was staring at us with a curious look on her face, but neither of us stopped to explain it. We all entered together, and I remained to the back. The music was overbearingly loud. I could feel the bass rattling my head. So, this was college kids’ kind of fun. I thought it was mainly frat parties and wet t-shirt fundraisers. Boy, was I wrong.
I followed Giovanni as a group of guys waved us over, headed by Ryker. He looked absolutely comfortable standing around his large group of followers. The cheer team was seated right next to them, ogling over the boys. It was really messed up in the grand scheme of things. I could have had a normal life; I could have been normal. My brother and I would have attended college, surely on opposite ends of the planet. But we would be exactly how they were now. Not a care in the world. Maybe I would be more obsessed with boys than with trying to not fuck up and stay alive long enough to get paid.
“Elsie! Jaylyn!” I couldn’t keep from raising my brows as a half-drunk Sarah stumbled over to where we stood.
Elsie had found a table next to the pool lounge, and I kept next to her. It was the only point in the room that gave full access to everything going on, and for that I appreciated her. It would have been awkward enough to try to explain that we needed to move seats, and then not have a good enough reason to.
“Oh, hey, uh, Sarah.” Elsie greeted her, as normal, but the look on her face was bewilderment.
I said nothing and turned my attention to Giovanni and his group of meat heads. He was fitting in pretty well for his first day, unlike me. The girls would hardly even look at me, let alone actually talk to me. Besides Elsie. But it would be better that way. I wouldn’t have to entertain a bunch of squealing girls, and it wouldn’t look like I didn’t have any friends at all. Win-win.
I leaned over and tried to speak over the volume of the music. “Hey, I’m going to grab a drink. Do you want anything?”
“Sure. I’ll just take a beer.” Elsie turned back toward Sarah; it was obvious she was trying really hard to seem interested in whatever Sarah was gushing over.
I hopped off my stool, and swiveled in and out of people trying to weave my way to the bar, but I stilled when the hair on the back of my neck stood up and I could feel eyes like daggers in the back of my head. I turn and look around. Most people were going about their business, but a group of rather pathetic looking men were staring me down. I shrugged it off even though I was itching for a fight. Just one good reason to let off some steam.
When I got to the bar, I ordered Elsie’s beer and two shots of whiskey. The bartender was attractive and gave me a knowing smile but didn’t ask to see my identification. It would have been a first. Just flash a man your perkiest smile, and you were guaranteed to get away with murder. He made a show of pouring my shots, but I smiled and acted interested.
“I’m Dylan.” He introduced himself loudly.
I only smiled, and he continued to pour Elsie’s beer. A shoulder bumped mine in the small space left open next to me, and I had to side step to avoid stumbling into the next person. I looked up and a guy around my age took up that said small space. He didn’t pay me any mind, but that didn’t bother me. What bothered me was how familiar he seemed. His hair was raven black, hard hazel eyes, and a peculiar lip line. He wasn’t smiling, but it wasn’t a frown either. I didn’t hear him order a drink, but mine were ready, and still, I stood there and openly stared at him.
Where do I know you from?
“I don’t think we’ve met.” He responded.
I hadn’t realized I spoke out loud.
“Nick.” He held out his hand formally. “Black.”
He ran his hands through his hair when I didn’t offer a handshake and I shivered. The hot room had turned icy in the split of a moment.
“I’m Giovanni’s older brother.”
I deadpanned. In all the time I have worked for Dominik Black, I had never met his older son. The little I did know about him didn’t say much, other than he didn’t want to take over the Company. He was never home, and didn’t spend any time going to any of Dominik’s many galas for the rich and powerful. It was like he didn’t associate with that lifestyle.
“Oh, well. I’m one of Gio’s friends. Nice to meet you.” I smiled, even though it came out forced. This man was a force of nature. The aura around him screamed dominance and control. He would have made a perfect successor for Black’s empire. I wonder why he had refused.
Without saying anything else, he grabbed his own drink and I grabbed mine and headed back to Elsie adjacent to the boy’s. I set down her beer, not even attempting to get in on Sarah’s ranting and watched the football team with acute interest. Nick made it back to Giovanni and slung an arm over his shoulders, and Ryker greeted him with equal enthusiasm.
So, they all know each other.
That was unexpected. How did Ryker fit into a friendship with two mobster brothers? It didn’t make any sense. Unless, he was friends with Nick and that would explain why Ryker had taken to Giovanni so quickly. It seemed perfectly normal for your older brother’s best friend to keep an eye on you if you happened to attend the same college. But what that didn’t explain was why Nick Black would be an entire state over from his father. Dominik was overbearing at the least.
It seemed I had more questions than answers, but my nerves calmed at the idea of three people keeping watch over Gio instead of just me. It was personal for them, but for me, it was just a paycheck. It meant more. I jumped when Sarah slammed her hands against the table beside me, and I broke my concentration to look at her.
“I’m going to ask Giovanni to play pool...” It came out broken and slurred, but I was accustomed to drunk behavior. And for Sarah, this seemed typical. I only rolled my eyes.
As soon as she was out of earshot, Elsie sighed. “Thank god. I thought she would never leave.”
“You didn’t help at all.” She scoffed. “You were too busy flirting with that hottie at the bar.”
“Is there anything you don’t notice?” I asked, halfway expecting an answer.
“Nope.” She giggled and sipped on her beer. “So, what did he say to you?”
“He promised to take me home and fuck my brains out.”
Her eyes widened and I thought they might burst out of her head. The look on my face conveyed utter bullshit and she pouted as soon as realization hit her.
“You’re no fun, Jay.”
“You make it too easy, Els.” I smiled to myself.
This might be what having a friend actually feels like.
“Really, we didn’t say much. He’s Gio’s older brother. That’s as far as we got.” I shrugged.
We watched as Sarah made a complete ass of herself in front of the guys, and giggled together at her clumsiness. It may be wicked, but I couldn’t find it in me enough to care about Sarah’s feelings, Elsie was enough for me. We were enjoying ourselves at her expense until Ryker locked eyes with mine, and they were practically pleading for us to come over and do something about it. I huffed and looked at Elsie.
I stood and pulled off my jacket. Thank god for deodorant. This place was a sweat box. Elsie stood and followed suit. I flanked her as we approached the group and Elsie placed a gentle hand on Sarah’s shoulder.
“Sarah.” She cooed, coaxing a drunk from her stupor like she had done it a million times before. “I think you might need to sit down for a little while, before you get hurt.”
Sarah slapped her hand away, and Elsie yipped. That was enough for me.
“Hey!” I all but shoved Elsie aside, and grabbed Sarah underneath her arm. I knew she would find bruises there in the morning, but I didn’t care. I gave her a good shake and yanked her away from the pool table like she weighed less than paper. “She said you need to sit down before you get hurt.” I put emphasis in hurt by squeezing her arm tighter, until she yelped and glared at me. “So, sit down.” I dragged her to the nearest chair and pushed her into it. “You’re embarrassing yourself.”
I turned back around and unfortunately all eyes were on me. Some were shocked, others were dancing with humor. In a second everyone was back to doing what they had been, and I joined Elsie and brushed off her shoulders.
“You all right?”
She laughed. “I’m fine. But thanks for having my back.”
She kept giggling as she grabbed a pool stick for her and myself. She tossed it to me, and I grabbed up a cube of chalk. She took that time to rack up the table.
“Do you want to break?” She asked from the opposite end of the table.
“Nah, you should.”
Elsie broke the table and I watched as she sunk three balls.
“Okay.” I lined up a shot and intentionally scratched and she laughed.
“Well, there is one thing I can beat you at.”
“I don’t think pool is a proper sport for me.” I laughed with her.
The game continued, and I only attempted to drop two of my balls, while Elsie cleared the table. She missed on the last striped ball, so I bent over the table to attempt to shoot again. I tensed when warmth lined up with my back. My head spiked sideways, lips at my ear, and hands at my hips, steering me in the right position.
“You really should be standing like this, so you can aim properly.” His voice had dropped a couple octaves, husky and smooth.
“Are you sure?” I asked sheepishly, acting the part.
“Yes.” Ryker pulled my cue back and thrust it forward, instantly two solid balls hit their mark.
He rotated my hips, and I looked down as his hands moved my body accordingly. They were searing my skin where he touched, and his fingertips dug in more than necessary. I melted. He pulled back the cue for another shot, but I didn’t care about the game anymore. I cared about the mass of muscle squeezing me between him and the table. The shot missed, and he chuckled, knowing exactly what he was doing.
I shook my head and glared at him playfully.
“You should probably pick a different game. I hear darts are fun.” He joked, obviously trying to make fun of me.
“Is that so? I bet I could beat you at pool, even though I play so poorly.” I mocked.
“Let’s make it interesting then. I’ll wager you a hundred bucks. Cash.” He raised a brow.
I shrugged, chalking up the end of my stick. “I’ll wager a thousand. Since were making it interesting and all.”
“Done.” He had a devilish grin. The angels would be jealous.
“Done.” I reached out and shook his hand, playing the innocent.
“Would you like to break?” Elsie asked and took that as a cue to reset the table.
“Ladies first.” He motioned towards me, and all the guys huddled around, ready for me to make a fool of myself.
I only smiled politely, rolling my shoulders. Easy money.
“Thank you.” If he only knew.
I made a show of it, just so that he would realize quickly the error in his judgement. Curls fell around my face in waves as I bent over to line up, and my eyes locked with his. I didn’t even spare the table a glance. I thrust the pool stick forward and the triangle busted apart in a huge wave. The balls spread and I didn’t even count how many had sunk. It was nearly half with what was left. The mouths of the meat heads dropped, and Ryker knew in that exact moment that he had fucked up.
“I’ll take stripes.” I giggled. There were more stripes than solids, and the look of Ryker’s face showed that he knew I had played him.
I girlishly swayed this way and that, bending to line up shots, every single ball dunking into their pocket until only his solids and the eight-ball remained. My eyes never left his and I knew they would be radiating amusement.
“Corner pocket.” I called, and landed the heavy black ball in its home with ease.
The team erupted into howls of laughter, shaking Ryker by the shoulders. He crossed his arms and watched me walk around the table, and stop right in front of him to lean against the edge.
“I believe you lost.” I smiled.
“I believe I’ve been hustled.”
“Beginner’s luck.” I shrugged and held out my hand.