I reluctantly open my eyes and grimace at the styrofoam cup Daniel dangles in front of my face. “What’s this?” I straighten up and roll my shoulders back, the pain in my muscles a reminder of the intense workout I just pushed myself through. I’ve been sitting on a bench in the locker room of the gym for the past ten minutes, trying to gather enough strength to take a shower. Sweat still drips from my forehead as I lift my gaze to meet my friend’s.
Daniel chuckles when I furrow my eyebrows. “It’s just coffee. No milk, lots of sugar. Just how you like it.”
I frown. “That’s not how I drink my coffee.”
“I know. But the caffeine and the sugar will help. You could use an energy kick; you look like shit.”
“Thanks a lot.” I grab the cup with an eye-roll and take a sip. “Fuck, you can’t be serious,” I grumble. I wipe my face with my towel and shudder at the awful taste of what Daniel calls coffee. I scowl at him. “What are you still doing here? Aren’t you supposed to take over from Oliver?”
He checks the time. “Yeah. On my way. Today we’re gonna go on a trip to the city.”
My head flinches back slightly. “What?”
“Kaitlyn told Oliver she’s meeting your sister-in-law for lunch,” Daniel explains.
I nod, fixing my gaze on the cup in my hands. “It’s good that she’s getting out of the house.” My eyes meet Daniel’s, who cups his elbow with one hand while he taps his lips the other. I frown. “Why are you looking at me like that?”
He shrugs. “Just trying to figure out what’s going on with you. I’ve never seen you like this with a girl. When you took her to my party, the PDA seriously surprised me. You’re usually not the touchy-feely kind of guy, and that was when you had just met.” He chuckles. “I heard you guys fuck in the pantry, too.”
I clear my throat, averting my gaze. “Ah, yeah. Sorry about that.”
He waves his hand. “No need to apologize.” He takes a deep breath and takes a step back. “Anyways, I’m off. Do you want me to give her a message from you or something?”
I shake my head. “I don’t want her to think about me too much.”
“You mean like you think about her all the time?” He ignores my glare, and before he turns to leave, he adds, “It’ll all be over tonight.”
I look after him and sigh. I really hope so.
With a groan, I get up to take a scalding hot shower, uselessly trying to get rid of the pain and worry that’s suffocating me.
In the late afternoon, I walk into the Kingston Bar, which is closed today due to maintenance—or so the sign on the door says. It’s time for my audience with the almighty Jackson—my new boss. Taking in deep, calming breaths, I go straight to the office in the back. I don’t think my mood could be any darker when I knock on the door and enter.
Jackson sits behind the desk, going over some papers. He looks up and gives me his usual evil smirk. “Aaron, welcome. Sit down.”
Without a word, I do. I don’t take my eyes off him thus ignoring Steve, one of Jackson’s goons, standing behind him with his arms crossed over his chest. It’s unusual that Victor isn’t here as well, but before I can ponder on that any more, Jackson speaks.
“I’m delighted you came to your senses. Howard reassured me I owe it to you he finally sold his bar. Now we’ll have to see how serious you are about this.” He leans forward, clasping his hands together, fixating me with a long, hard stare. “Are you willing to continue to work for me as head of security?”
“Yes,” I tell him through gritted teeth. For today, I think to myself. I’ve gone over that lie again and again, so it passes my lips easily.
“Excellent. The client will be here shortly, and he’ll bring two of his people. You will make sure they hand over all their weapons and that they brought the money. All of it.”
Jackson turns his head. “Steve, please accompany Aaron to the back room to prepare everything for my client’s arrival.”
“Of course, boss.” Steve pushes himself off the wall he was leaning against and stares at me with narrowed eyes. Yeah, I never liked you either, buddy.
I bite my lips so no stupid remark leaves my mouth and get up from the chair. I follow Steve out of the office down the hallway. It’s been a while since I last was part of a deal, but this is obviously like riding a fucking bike. I know what I have to do and when. So when Oliver walks into the back room, followed by three guys, who look like they’ve come straight out of jail with their bulky build and many tattoos along with their hard expressions, it’s the usual procedure—no names, and a brief nod and an even briefer handshake as the only communication. We exchange a glance as I take their guns but leave the ones they have hidden on their body.
Joe, another one of Jackson’s assistants, takes the suitcase and checks its contents. He quickly looks over the money, obviously happy with the amount. He closes the suitcase with a smirk and nods at Steve, who leaves the room with one last look at everyone.
While we wait for Jackson, we all stare at each other silently. A nervous tension slowly but surely creeps up on me, and a small wave of nausea rolls through my stomach. I need to stop those worst-case scenarios so I can focus on keeping my cool.
A couple of minutes later, Steve returns. “The boss will be here any minute,” he explains before he looks at me. “Aaron, he wants to see you.”
I freeze for a second, with my heart beating wildly. Does Jackson want to make sure everything runs smoothly? Grinding my teeth, I follow Steve to Howard’s old office, where he knocks and opens the door.
I walk in behind him, and when I take in the scene in front of me, my heart stops. It takes me all I have to keep calm, but my eyes widen and my whole body tenses up. I clench my fists and grind my teeth when I spot Kaitlyn sitting on a chair in front of the desk and Jackson on a chair next to her—way too close.
My eyes meet hers, and her face falls. Fuck, she knows something is up, and I’m sure that means Jackson suspects something. My heart hammers in my chest, sending a rush of adrenaline through my body.
“Ah, Aaron. Look who joined us.” Jackson gets up and stands next to Kaitlyn, resting his hand on her shoulder. She flinches, and I’m moments away from beating the shit out of him.
“Get your fucking hands off her,” I grumble. I take a step closer but come to my senses when Victor clears his throat next to me. Yeah, starting a fight now isn’t the smartest thing to do. We need to complete the alleged deal first.
“Relax, Aaron,” Jackson says with a chuckle, finally taking his filthy mitt off her. “Nothing will happen to your precious woman. At least as long as you are smart enough to follow my orders.” He tilts his head and raises his eyebrows.
My eyes shoot back to Kaitlyn, and the pained expression on her face makes me even angrier. I grimace and mouth, “I’m sorry.”
“Aaron?” Jackson still looks at me expectantly.
I press my lips together, taking in a long, slow breath. “Yes. I’ll follow your orders,” I tell him through gritted teeth.
“Magnificent. Let’s go.” He gives Victor a nod, and I watch in horror how he approaches Kaitlyn to tie her hands behind her back while I have to follow Jackson out of the office. Victor blocks her from my view so I can’t even look at her once more before I walk out the door.
Breathing in deeply through my nose, with my fists still clenched and my whole body tense, I walk behind Jackson into the back room, where everyone waits for the things to come. Jackson quickly acknowledges his clients’ presence with a short hello before he motions to Steve to bring over the suitcase.
While Victor walks in as well and more anger builds up inside me from the pictures in my head of Kaitlyn being tied up in that office, Steve places the suitcase on a table next to us. He opens it and turns it around so Jackson can see its contents. Jackson takes a step forward, burying his fingers in the cash with a sigh before he grabs a bundle of dollar bills. “Ah, there’s nothing like some freshly printed money. Aaron, look at that nice stash.” He turns to me with an arrogant laugh. “It almost feels as good as touching your girl.”
If I didn’t clench my jaw that tight, my mouth would fall open. A deep growl forms in the back of my throat, but before I can act on my wish to torture Jackson, Oliver turns up behind me and rests his hand on my shoulder, squeezing painfully hard. “Don’t,” he whispers.
I draw in a deep breath, miserably failing to calm down. I take a step forward. My eyes meet Jackson’s hard stare, and the urge to cause him excruciating pain intensifies when he gives me his smuggest smile yet. I know he wants to provoke me into doing something stupid; it’s his way of testing my loyalty.
“Don’t talk about her like that,” I growl.
He chuckles. “Damn, Aaron.” He leans closer and whispers for my ears only, “You really need to keep your dick out of this. No woman comes before me, understood? Maybe I’ll keep her a little while longer to show her a good time.”
I gasp. My whole body trembles uncontrollably as I finally lose my shit. I lunge at Jackson, and when my fist connects with his jaw, relief washes over me. I don’t care about the consequences of my actions; all I care about is making him bleed, making him shut the fuck up.
Jackson staggers back, and I’m not sure why he’s surprised by my sudden outburst. I grab his shirt, but before I can deal my next blow, Steve and Joe throw themselves at me, holding me back. They seize my arms, pulling me off their boss. Oliver turns up in front of me, forcing my eyes to meet his. “Aaron,” he grunts. “You’re not helping the situation. Calm the fuck down.”
I’m hardly aware of the surrounding commotion. I fix my gaze on Oliver, trying to get a grip on the rage boiling inside me. My chest heaves with my exasperated breathing. He’s right, I can’t let this ruin everything. We are so close.
Jackson turns up next to my friend, wiping the blood from his swollen lip. “Damn, this woman of yours seems to be a bigger problem than I initially thought. I think we need to take care of the issue.”
“You will do no such thing.”
We all turn around to the voice coming from the door. Steve and Joe instantly let go of me as we stare at Wallace Greene and four police officers with their guns ready.
“Fucking shit,” Jackson curses under his breath. He glares at me. “I knew I was right to question your loyalty, but I didn’t think you’d set me up, you fucking fool. You’ll pay for this.”
“No, Jackson,” Wallace interrupts his son. “Aaron had nothing to do with this. You might wanna do your research because it was Howard who contacted me and helped me plan all this.”
I silently watch their exchange, holding my fist, which still throbs after the punch I aimed at Jackson. Can’t they get it over with already? I desperately need them to arrest Jackson so I can finally get to Kaitlyn.
“Now,” Wallace says. “Sorry to interrupt this cozy little get-together, but I think these nice officers came here to arrest some people.”
Jackson snorts. “You have nothing against me.”
“Oh, we do. As it turns out,” Wallace explains, “those people who wanted to buy your goods are undercover agents and can attest to what you were going to sell here tonight.”
Jackson narrows his eyes at his father, leaning in. “You think you can come barging in here, find a ton of some illegal substance somewhere in the back of this bar, and arrest me?” He huffs and waves his arm. “Feel free to search the place.”
“No, I think we can come barging in here and arrest you for kidnapping and assault. If I understood correctly, you brought a woman here against her will. That will be enough to keep you locked up for a while. But you’ll have to face more severe charges because as we speak, the DEA is raiding the warehouse you thought no one knew about, where you deposited those illegal substances.”
Jackson’s expression hardens, and he spits on the ground in front of his father’s feet. “I can’t believe you’d do this to your own flesh and blood.”
“Times change.” Wallace nods at the police officers. Finally, things happen. Two of them handcuff Jackson, Steve, and Joe as Wallace turns to me. “Where’s your girl?”
“In Howard’s office.”
When Wallace gives me his okay, I ignore my wobbly legs and spin around. Lightheadedness takes over at the thought of having Kaitlyn in my arms again. I don’t even wait for him and another officer to follow me. I need to get to her as soon as in any way possible. Another adrenaline rush allows me to sprint down the hall toward the office and tear open the door.
Only to find the room empty.