Focus (Le Corbeau, #1) ✓

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3. Spark

“Do you want to talk?” John asked.

“There’s nothing to talk about,”

Coffee. I thought. Coffee always makes everything better. It was the next day, early afternoon, and I was about to start my first day of work. If I left now, I’d be too early to start my first shift but if I left later, John would try to talk to me. I wasn’t in the mood. For all I knew, I’d probably spill my worst thoughts on his daughter. I once told him she was a bitch but there was more to unleash.

“McKenna, it looked like you were going to kill someone last night,”

“Is my ma okay?”

“Alexis is fine and don’t try to change the subject,”

Sighing, I pivoted on my heels and leant against the counter, folding my arms as I stared at him. “So what if I want to change the subject?”

“Have you tried to talk to someone with your... anger?”

“You mean a shrink?”

He nodded and I scoffed. “Maybe talking it out may be more effective than just taking your prescribed drugs. You’re a ticking time bomb, I saw you reaching for the vase. If Bruce hadn’t interceded-”

“The vase?” I interrupted, frowning. John nodded once again. I didn’t recall reaching for a vase, or any other type of potential weapon for that matter. My mood lowered further at that knowledge and I knew he was watching me. My dad was there, I could see him from the corner of my eye but I didn’t give him any satisfaction that I knew he was there.

It was one of his specialities when his anger went out of control, using objects when his emotions were displaced on another. I remember one distinct moment when he did so to my mom, lifting the flat screen TV just as he was about to kill her with it. I rubbed my eyes, willing the tainted memory to fade away.

“If Bruce hadn’t interceded, things could’ve turned out a lot worse,” He repeated, this time completing his sentence.

“Why does it feel like you’re placing the blame on me?” I asked, arching a brow. “Gladys is a parasite in her own right. I’m sorry, I know you love my ma but that doesn’t mean that we’ll braid each other’s hair and tell our secrets.”

He flinched at my words. “Now, I know she can be a handful...”

“Words aren’t enough to explain how much of a nightmare she is,” I muttered but loud enough for him to hear it. “She’s one of the reasons why I left,” She’s second on the list.

“How many reasons are there?”

I shrugged. “Probably thirteen,” I chuckled silently, sipping my coffee.

“And what is your last reason?”

Bruce. I thought but I didn’t dare say it out loud. He liked Bruce despite the fact that all he's doing is sleeping with Gladys. In all honesty, their pairing was a match made in hell. I couldn’t see a future for them with their personalities opposing each other.

“I need to get to work. I’ve got to pay my way out of this town somehow,”

Without waiting for his reply, I grabbed my things and left my coffee to freeze. My infatuation with Bruce was out of control in my younger years. He never saw me as anything else but Salice’s best friend. I was a lovesick puppy trailing after him and more than enough times humiliated by his friends and other people of it. He must’ve known; it wasn’t a secret.Maybe it was one of the reasons why I tried to avoid him. I think I’d rather disappear than to face an embarrassing moment with him. Could you literally die from embarrassment?

My dad didn’t follow me outside. He didn’t die in that house; Mom moved in with John right after they got married so he couldn’t be haunting it. There were times where I thought he was haunting me. He was the embodiment of my torment, representing the pain he'd inflicted, one I desperately tried to forget.

Yusuf’s eyes watched me as I continued down the road and a weight was lifted from my shoulder. I breathed a sigh of relief.

Alice’s bar and grill wasn’t too far from my mom’s home. It was on the top of a hill and easily the most popular destination for most of the civilians. She really outdid herself as Alice wasn’t just a regular bar, but with time, it became the heart of Le Corbeau. It was where everyone met everyone whether new or old time friends. I’d been told that some couples first met in this bar. I entered the building, the loud ding indicating my arrival and naturally, some threw simple glances to see who it was, others stared. I’d been gone for so long I became a stranger in my own home. I didn’t recognise anyone and the people I did know weren’t very welcoming.

Alice, the bar, presented a warm, friendly atmosphere with its deep mahogany brown walls and table with blood red lanterns. It illuminated the bar, giving it a dim glow that made the area even more comfortable. The bar was at the centre, giving room for customers to easily walk up and order a drink. The place was truly magnificent.

Alice bounced up to me out of nowhere, frightening my soul. She was really small so I was left to peer down at her. Her dark brown hair was cropped into a pixie cut and her features revealed her Asian heritage. She was a complete stunner and her badass sleeved tattoo’s juxtaposed against her small features – she was small but mighty in a sense.

“Thank god you’re here!” Her soft voice drowned in the chatter of the bar but we were close enough that my ears caught her words. “The bar is packed and one of my waitresses just called in sick,”

“That’s why I’m here,” I grinned and she winked. Quickly, I followed her into her office, slowly closing the door behind me.

“Get changed and I’ll explain what you need to do,” She nodded towards my work uniform laid out on top of a desk and I stared at it in horror.

“This is my uniform?” I asked incredulously.

“This is Louisiana. I don’t want you to die because of the heat,” Before I could say anything else, she fled and I cursed under my breath.

I was very well aware of the scorching heat that was Louisiana but Alice air conditioned the bar. I'd probably die from the opposite. Hesitantly, I plucked the shorts from beneath the white t-shirt and stared with wide eyes then looked at my legs. Now isn’t the time worry about your body, McKenna.

“Fuck it,” I growled, tugging down my pants and stepping into what leaned more to panties than shorts. Changing into my t-shirt with the bar’s logo, I pulled my long, blonde hair into a high ponytail. Taking deep breaths of encouragement, I turned on my heels, exiting the office with my head held high, ignoring the blatant stares, the side-glances and the whispers trailing behind. There were some whistles but I pretended they were for someone else.

My eyes found Alice and I made my way toward her. Her index finger danced across her lower lip as she tried to hide her sly smirk. Sending her a tight smile, I stopped in front of her, placing my hands on my hips expectantly.

“Where do you want me?”

“Table number nine,” She jerked her chin over my shoulder. “Three guys all ordering the same thing; three cheeseburgers with fries and cherry coca cola,”

I scrunched my nose. “The same thing,”

“The same thing,” She repeated with a half smile. “Billy is a chef, so is Jace. They’ll say ‘order up’ and write down the table that has ordered,”

I nodded. “Seems simple enough,”

Alice flashed her pearly white teeth. “Great, get to work then,”

“Order up!” A deep voice bellowed and I rushed to where the chefs were, meeting a tall man with rich ebony skin and his long, black hair was braided in two cornrows which accentuated his face.

I glanced at his name tag to see he was Jace, meaning the other guy behind him was Billy. Jace smiled at me, his smile was so warm that I relaxed under his accepting aura.

“Table number nine?” I asked.

“Yup, welcome to Alice’s bar and grill,”

Trying to balance the three plates of meals in my arms, I beamed at him. “Thanks, it’s nice to meet you,”

In the world of waitressing, smiling was the best accessory anyone to place on. I approached table number nine and the men quietened at the sound of my arrival. Three pairs of eyes land on me and I swallowed the lump in my throat. I couldn’t help but feel like fresh meat in an exhibition for hungry animals. They were all juveniles, no older than twenty-one. Fucking great…

“Here are your orders,” I said and because they all ordered the exact same thing, I didn’t bother asking who ordered what. I placed their food down and that’s when shit started spewing from their vile lips.

“Come here often, pretty thing?” I cringed inwardly at the shaggy blonde haired guy. Pretty thing? Did anybody say that these days?

“I’m new here, so no,”

“Do you want a tour 'round? We can be very… explorative,” Another with light brown hair tried to reach for my hip but I slapped his hand away so fast, he’s lucky it didn’t chop off. I had no tolerance for bullshit and my anger was bubbling inside me.

“Back off,” I growled, trying to walk away. From my peripheral vision, I saw the guys reaching out to me one last time and everything around me happened in slow motion.

I prepared to fight them off but a tall, dark figure shadowed over us and within seconds, one of the guy’s wrist was trapped in a vice grip. I gasped, turning my body fully to the scene and saw Bruce looming over them with a wicked sheen in his eyes. His other hand was on the guy’s shoulder -the one with shaggy blonde hair - in a silent threat to break his arm. His threat was so potent, a sense of fear lingered in me.

The other two guys were silent as they stared at Bruce with their mouths wide open. “Please, please-"

“You apologise before I lose it and break your fucking arm,”

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”

“Tip your waitress,”Levitating the pressure on blonde’s arm, he stepped away. “Leave, now!”

Quicker than lightning, all three boys shifted out of the booth, not forgetting to leave a few bucks on the table. Bruce’s eyes never left them until they were out of the bar and then, they moved to me. Grabbed my tip, I shoved them into my front pockets. His cool fingers grazed my chin and forced my head in his direction, leaving me prisoner beneath his steely irises.

“You alright?”

“I’m fine,” I grumbled, shrugging his fingers away. I stalked past him, heading to the counter where Jace was and released a rush of air.

This time, Billy came to me with a slight furrow to his brows. “Looks like you’ve seen a ghost,”

I laughed humourlessly; I have been seeing a ghost, my dad, every single day since my return. I smiled at Billy, silently telling him I wasn’t being intentionally rude.

“I have,”

He scratched his beard thoughtfully. “You’re serious?”

Smiling knowingly, I sauntered over to another table to collect their order. Retrieving the pen and notepad from the front pockets of my shorts, I zeroed my attention onto a customer I knew too well. Seven years distance didn’t alter my memories of her.

“Salice…”

She lifted her head, her dark blue eyes flashing with recognition. She was different with her hair cut to shoulder length and slightly chubbier than when I last recalled. One similarity she had with Bruce was her deep olive skin, rich and flawless, something I envied. She was beautiful in every sense, inside and out, and I wasn’t expecting her smile to be so genuine.

“McKenna, how are you?”

“I’m good, I’m-“

Hands touch my hips, the mere contact was so powerful I paused mid-sentence and glanced over my shoulder to see Bruce. He offered a sensual smile and stepped around my frame to take his seat across his sister. I narrowed my eyes. I’d seen him more often than not compared to when I was younger.

Salice cleared her throat and I tore my gaze away to meet her eyes.

“We’ll catch up soon?” she asked and I nodded.

“Sure, I’m off the clock at five,”

I didn’t wait for her reply, the tension of being in Bruce’s presence was overwhelming and I released a breath when the electricity surrounding us slowly diminishing the further away I. But my escape didn’t keep him at bay.

“McKenna…”

“Jesus!” I yelped, jumping as high as a kangaroo could go before spinning on my heels to meet him once again. He leant forward on the counter, the veins along his muscular forearm looking prominent with his pose. “You gotta stop doing that,”

“Doing what?”

“Popping out of nowhere,” He smirked and I stood there awkwardly. “Do you want another beer?”

“No,”

“Oh,” What do I say now? I looked 'round the bar and couldn’t find Salice. Did she go home? Bruce was doing his usual favourite hobby. Staring. I was never a fan of unwanted attention; I wondered what was going through his head.

“You didn’t have to help me with those guys back there. I could’ve taken care of myself,”

“I know,” Tucking a rebellious strand of hair behind my ear, his fingers lingered on my cheek then dropped his hand. Thrown off by his intimate actions, I frowned and blinked and unexplained emotions flow through me.

“You look pretty,”

Whoa, whoa... back up! I pulled away, stunned. “Excuse me?”

There was a glint of determination in his eyes that sent shivers through my spine. In that moment, he looked like a predator and I was his prey. Grabbing my hand, he pulled me around the counter. Nothing separated us except for the air and my breathing hitched he pulled my body closer to his.

I felt light-headed breathing in his musky aftershave mixed with his natural scent. Any more inhales, I’d probably be lost in his enchanting spell.

“Alice, give her five,” He demanded as he pulled me towards the exit. I was too shocked to speak and I realised that he gave my boss orders. I was completely flabbergasted. His silver orbs pinned me with a simple glance.

“I just want to talk,”

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