Focus (Le Corbeau, #1) ✓

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2. Haunted

I woke early due to my internal alarm clock; I was the early bird but then again, thoughts of my father blocked any satisfaction of a restful night. I glanced outside to see snippets of light cracking through the sky as dawn welcomed me with a gentle glow. The windows to my bedroom were open and the calm, cool breeze brushed against my skin, effectively knocking me out of my sleepy haze. I knew later it’d get hotter. An early stroll didn't seem too bad. Maybe I'd head downtown at noon.

The whole house was quiet so I tried to be careful moving around my room. The walls weren’t soundproof and I especially didn’t want to wake Gladys. My reasons weren’t coming from a considerate aspect. Once I got dressed, I slowly tiptoed down the steps, heading for the kitchen and stopping in my tracks when I saw John sitting adjacent to the dining table with a cup of coffee in his hands.

Noticing my presence, his eyes darted over to me and the corners of them wrinkled with a welcoming smile. “You’re awake,”

“Couldn’t sleep,”

John jerked his head at the coffee maker. “You want a cup?”


I sat across from his chair and waited until he handed over my coffee. I took a tentative sip as he gradually sunk into his chair. I looked over the large piece of paper sprawled on top of the table.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“I’m planning to build a shed out back and these are all just my first drafts. I hope you build it soon because I’ll want to use to for myself with work related things,”

I nodded. “Would you need help to build it?”

He peered at me from the brim of his glasses and raised a questioning brow.

“You actually want to help?”

I shrugged. “I’ve got nothing to while I’m here. I need to work to keep me sane,”

The corner of his eyes crinkled again with his beaming smile, his dark skin glowing under the knowledge of my assistance. I was never really close to John, never found the reason to when I left Louisiana. It was too sudden to have another father figure when mine was a piece of shit. He was my only representation of men and for a while, I believed all were like that. I was afraid that he'd be like him, yet he was nothing but kind to me and Alexis.

“Excellent, I’ll tell you when I’m ready to get to work, I just need to get through this first,” He glanced at the paper.

“Alright, will you tell my ma that I’m heading to town?”

“Of course, what are you gonna do?”

“I came home, I want to see what else has changed while I was away.”

I stayed back 'til I finished my coffee and we continued to chat more about his work. I tried to give him ideas, I wasn’t skilled but I didn’t want to only play Bob the builder. Standing to my feet, I walked toward the sink to quickly rinse my cup. John followed me.

“Listen, this Thursday, I won’t be able to drive Alexis to her doctor’s appointment. I was hoping you’ll fill in?”

“Sure, just text me the time,”

Standing in front of the Atlas gym was nerve-wracking. My futile attempts to stay away weren’t effective. I was merely curious but it was enough to override any sense left in my brain. Shielding my eyes from the sun’s glare, I scanned my surroundings, noticing cars filled in the parking lot; it must be a popular gym. So far in my return to Le Corbeau, nothing drastic changed. I saw people I remembered a few years back but older, some successful, others not. I couldn’t avoid the gym completely as the townsfolk constantly spoke of Atlas, mostly the female population.

“It can’t be that good,” I muttered to myself, hoisting my gym bag over my shoulders. It was just another regular gym, right?

Male laughter surrounded me and subconsciously, my gaze followed the sound. There were a group of guys standing in front of a mechanic’s store, fawning over a car that didn’t belong in this town. It was a pricey red Ferrari that was known to be in big cities like New York or Los Angeles. I was privileged to drive one once but only for a limited time. I squinted in the hopes of getting a better view of the guys; they didn’t look like they were able to afford an expensive car. I settled on the idea of them being mechanics and turned away dismissively.

With the sun at its highest peak and with the heat beating down my skin, I was desperate to get into the cool air-conditioned building. Scurrying to the entrance, I took in my surroundings with interest, then allowed my eyes to settle on the receptionist’s desk. The person sitting behind wasn’t who I anticipated.

As I approached, he raised his dirty blonde head in acknowledgement. I smiled warily, not knowing what to say but then his face broke into a full-blown grin which eased my nerves slightly.

“Well look at you,” Wolf Dawson whistled sharply, his olive eyes trailing down my body blatantly as I approached his desk. He was so loud, the whole town could hear him. Oh, god… I avoided his gaze sheepishly. “McKenna Said, you look hot!”

I blushed furiously and squirmed under his scrutiny. “Hey, Wolf,”

“Thought I’d never see you again, you’re looking good,”

“Thank you,”

I wasn’t the same girl I was seven years ago. Being a late bloomer, I was the odd one out amongst my friends and a most of the other girls in my high school. I was comfortable being the girl that no one really noticed and I never got second glances from guys, not until my return. The attention was… uncomfortable - I didn’t know how to react to them. My hips were fuller, providing the hourglass figure that mirrored my ma’s body. Other than my hair, it was the only quality I inherited from her. I patted my scorching cheeks, willing them to cool down.

“You’re working at the reception?” I asked, trying to direct his attention.

“Nah, Salice is busy at home with her kid,” Her kid? My mouth dropped open, completely blindsided. Before leaving for New Orleans, I was close friends with Salice. Was I that secluded I wasn’t aware of her pregnancy? Surely, Alexis would’ve known.

“She has a kid?” I voiced out my question.

“Yeah, his name is Jonah,” He tilted his head. “You didn’t know about this?”

Oh. “Where do I sign up for membership?” I asked, wanting to change the topic once again.

Wolf jerked his body forward and I flinched, surprised. It didn’t go unnoticed. From the corner of his eyes, he watched me quizzically. “You okay?”

“Y-yeah,” I cleared my throat. “Yeah, it’s just… nothing,”

Taking the sign-up sheet from his grasp along with a pen, I sent a thankful smile. There was a see-through, glassed door which revealed some gym members during their workout. Immediately, my eyes landed on Bruce. It was impossible not to. I lost any sense of cognitive thinking as my pen wavered off the sheet. He may not be the largest man in the room like the gym junkies I spotted, but his actions in the ring, his fluent movements with each punch stated his dominance. He was an alpha male in his own right. With each swift punch, his muscles tensed and then relaxed when he positioned into his original pose. Bruce would stop for a few seconds to talk to his opponent, giving him directions before resuming into their fighting stance. I was completely fascinated.

Again, exactly like last night, his eyes darted to me. Flustered, I cast my gaze down. Did he sense I was here? I’m here to work out, I tried to convince myself.

“Dawson, you’re needed,”

Wolf smiled at me reassuringly. “Once you’re finished, just leave it in that little box and head in,”

Grinning, he winked, following the tatted girl to the back of the gym. I raised my brows before finishing dotting down my details, leaving the sheet in the box, as instructed, and walked in the air-conditioned room of the gym. I held my breath as I passed Bruce, not daring to look at him but his stare left a hot trail with each step I took. Mentally, I slapped myself. What are you doing? His presence was so intense I burned internally but it was too late to turn around. I was friends with his sister. His attention was probably out of recognition instead interest. I was pathetic.

I found an empty punching bag, one that was furthest away from him. Dropping my gym bag, I searched for gloves to wear. Lost in thought, I didn’t hear footsteps approaching.

“You’re back,” a deep, gruff voice spoke from behind and I jumped what seemed like ten feet in the air.

Spinning on my heels, I come face to face with Bruce and stiffened under his intense silver irises. Frozen in place, I felt... exposed, like he’s seeing through me like clear glass. He towered over me, standing well over six foot and I stepped back to get a better look at him as well as creating some distance. His scent was intoxicating which wasn’t good for my clouded mind. A sheen of sweat clung to his deep olive skin along with his wet brown hair that almost appeared black.

“Uh, yeah, it’s temporary though,”

“Why not permanently?” he asked.

He stepped closer, invading my personal space… again. He probably did it subconsciously to every woman close by. I gasped at the bolts of electricity travelling my arm when he grabbed my wrist. I frowned at him, trying to tug away but he tightened his grip, too tightly, I winced. Immediately, he loosened his hold.

“I… uh, only came back for family reasons,”

“Your mama’s miscarriage, right?”

“How do you know?” I asked, my tone sounding a little defensive. His lips twitched upwards in a small smirk, revealing a scar at the corner of his bottom lip. Grabbing my hips, he spun me around to face the punching bag.

“Gladys told me. You’re interested in training?”

Another round of heat flooded my cheeks and I thanked God he couldn’t see my face. For years, I’d been neutral towards the opposite sex; other men never really caught my eye. I’d lived my life on a straight path until Bruce. Glancing over my shoulder, I watched him warily.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m helping you,”

“I’m fine,” I snapped, irritated. His chuckle vibrated through the air, his hot breaths fanning my ear. He was too close I could hardly breathe, slowly sucking the oxygen from my body.

“Alright, I’ll keep my distance,”

I turned to him as he held his hands up in mock surrender before spinning on his heels, taking long strides away from me. I wasn’t surprised when he talked another woman other than Gladys. He openly flirted with the woman, sending her a flirtatious wink before retreating back to his office on the second floor. From the windows of his office, Bruce could see the whole gym and he briefly glanced in my direction before seating on his leather chair.

I sighed. What the actual fuck just happened? With my mood dampened, I made a move to leave Atlas. It was a mistake choosing his gym out of every other gym in Le Corbeau.

You wanted to see Bruce. A distant voice echoed in my thoughts. I scoffed to myself, picking my gym bag and paced towards the exit. Before I stepped past the threshold, Gladys came into my view and I paused for a second and her inquisitive look.

“You may want to tighten the reigns on your new boy toy,”

The corner of her brown eyes tightened, her posture stiffening and I saw possessiveness cross her features. I snickered as I walked away. Her personality went from zero to one-hundred in seconds. I knew I’ll enjoy each moment watching from the sidelines as her jealousy consumed her. She got what she was given - a taste of her own medicine. With an attractive guy like Bruce, there came a line of women waiting silently, hoping for their demise.

Once, she was first in line to sabotage my relationship with my first boyfriend. A thought crossed my mind as I walked past the reception area. What if the tables were turned? Her so-called ‘relationship’ would evaporate faster than smoke and Bruce wouldn’t notice any difference in his life. Gladys was incapable of a committed relationship. I waved at Wolf and he jerked his chin at me.

“It was nice to see you again, McKenna,”

“You too, see you around,”

You found a job?”

“Just for a short time,” I poured some coffee into my mug before taking a sip. “Remember Alice?”

Alexis paused as she went over her mental list of names and then refocused her blue gaze on me. She nodded. “The tiny one?”

Her demonstration of Alice’s height was comical and I rolled my eyes amusedly while shaking my head.

“Yes, the very small one,” I said. “She offered a job when I went into town this morning. It’s part-time but I told her I wasn’t planning to stay for too long,”

Before she could reply, Gladys stormed through the living room, slamming the door which sent wind of her ire. I wasn’t fazed by her actions but my ma looked terrified. I could sense her resentment pouring into the room when her dark eyes landed on me. I knew it had something to do with Bruce.

“Are you okay?” Alexis asked, genuinely concerned. This time, I rolled my eyes in exasperation and took another sip of my coffee.

“No, Bruce and I fought,” Her eyes shifted to me in disgust. Her hatred was deeper than the depths of hell and unlucky for her, the feeling was mutual. The only difference was when she pissed me off, I tried to keep the lid on top of my relentless rage.

“What was it about?” I asked, feigning concern.

“Some girl he talked to...”

Ma shook her head and made a noise of disapproval. I stifled my laughter. She was too innocent for her own good.

“Sweetie, jealousy isn’t healthy with your relationship. Trust me, seeing every woman as a threat is no good,”

Great advice but it doesn’t help when her boyfriend is a compulsive Casanova. She had a reason to be worried, as there was some truth to her words. I’d witnessed it. Bruce’s wandering eyes never swayed from me. When his mind was focused on something, no-one could change his mind.

And I knew he was coming for me.

Gradually, ma stood to her feet, releasing an exhausted sigh. “I’m going to bed,”

I glanced at the time on my phone. “It’s just four in the afternoon,”

“I’m getting old, McKenna, I need to sleep,”

Frowning, I stared at her, noticing the dark circles under her eyes. She wasn’t just exhausted; it looked like she hadn’t slept in days. Was the miscarriage having a greater effect than I expected? I made a mental note to warn John about it. Both Gladys and I watched her ascend the stairs. Gladys didn’t say anything until she was out of sight.

“I thought I told you to stay away from Bruce,” She hissed.

“And I did,” Kind of. “He tried to talk to me but I ignored him,”

“That’s not what he told me,” she stepped forward, invading my personal space. “He gave you pointers when you were working out,”

“He owns the gym, a personal trainer. It’s his job,” I said in a condescendingly.

“Listen, you-”

“No you listen, what you’re given is what you get. If you think your boyfriend has another woman, he probably does,”

“You little bitch!” she screeched. Her hand swooped low, aiming for my face but I caught it in a tight grip and she winced in pain. Fury boiled my blood as I saw red. With two hands, I shoved her chest roughly, causing her to stumble back in shock.

“Don’t you fucking touch me!” I snarled.

My anger mirrored the tip of the iceberg. There were times when I was so out of control I wouldn’t remember what I’d done. I could see my father watching me, his flesh grey with decay as he grinned broadly. He was a sick man, I only ever saw him whenever my emotions were at their extreme like he was a figment of them.

Strong steel-like arms wrap around my waist, dragging me away from the serpent herself. I was too consumed in my rage I wasn’t aware who it was.

Lips brush the shell of my ear and a deep voice uttered. “Calm down,”

It was Bruce. Now my focus to attack switched as I was determined to get out of his hold. I dug my nails into his flesh with a long, nasty scratch but he didn’t budge from my assault. Reluctantly, he released me and I scrambled away, breathing heavily. We stared at each other and from the corner of my eyes, I saw John approaching quickly, his eyes wide as they shifted from Gladys to me.

“What happened?”

“What the hell is going on?” Bruce’s question was directed to the both of us, but his bright grey orbs were locked on me.

“Don’t ever touch me,”

I didn’t bother to answer his question. I ran straight to my room, fighting the tears threatening to fall down my cheeks. Rescued from the high of my emotions, I stumbled into my room, a gut-wrenching sob escaping my lips. I was deflated, worthless. It was like the joy of life was never installed in my existence and I wanted nothing more than to be on my own. My mind was swimming in a pool of sadness and the poison of self-doubt seeped into my system. I’m not welcomed here…

Coming back home was a mistake. It brought out the worst in me. If Bruce hadn’t stopped me, I would’ve beaten Gladys to a pulp. My little outburst was just the tip of the iceberg as there were times when I was completely consumed by rage and sadness that it blurred my vision of reasoning.Yusuf sat next to me. He never left my side. He stroked my blonde locks and soothed my painful cries with a simple hush.

It was like he never died.

He was truly present.

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