“You like that, don’t you? Irritating me with those names?” Kaitlyn asks with a glare directed at me. We stand in front of her door after we spent a surprisingly enjoyable afternoon together.
After our first disastrous encounter, I honestly never expected us to get along so well. When we ran into each other at the cemetery, I knew she was still pissed off, but the more we talked, the more she relaxed, and I’m pretty sure she meant it when she said she’d forgiven me.
What I’m not sure about is why I feel drawn to her. There’s something cute and innocent that she radiates, which is a welcome and refreshing change for me. The women I usually socialize with are anything but innocent, as much as I hate to admit it.
“Yeah,” I answer her question. I love the reaction I get from her when I call her those pet names. And how her body responds when I tuck a strand of hair behind her ear, makes me smile. The cutest soft blush suffuses her cheeks, and when she meets my gaze, she makes me feel things I haven’t felt in a while. Without reading too much into it, I turn around with a wave of my hand and leave her standing there looking after me.
When I walk past my dad, who has probably been watching us while pretending to clip the bushes, I stop and turn to him with my arms crossed in front of my chest. “What’s with the matchmaking, Dad?”
He looks at me with mock surprise. “Matchmaking? Pfff,” he mumbles. “But I gotta say, she’s a nice girl. Maybe spending time with her will rub off on you. Don’t ruin her though. Ah, damn,” he says with a sigh and runs his hand over his face. “Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea. Maybe you should stay away from her.”
I shake my head with a laugh. “Too late for that. I’m picking her up tomorrow morning. But don’t worry, Dad; I’ll behave.”
He rolls his eyes. “Yeah, because that’s what you always do.”
“Exactly. So, see ya.” With a laugh, I continue on my way to my car when my dad dismisses me with a wave of his hand.
On the drive to work, that silly smile is back on my face. I know my dad is right - I shouldn’t get too close to her. But who says we can’t spend some time together and have a little fun? Whatever that might include. What’s the worst that could happen? She’s only staying for a few weeks after all.
“You think Howard’s gonna sell this place?” Daniel asks while we sit at one of the tables in the corner of the Kingston Bar and eat a little something before our shift for this evening starts.
I look up from my plate at my colleague. “Not sure. When I talked to him, I could see the hesitation on his face. I know he doesn’t want to sell, but his wife’s condition is getting worse.”
Daniel puts down his fork on his empty plate and leans back in his chair with a sigh. “Who knows what kind of offer Jackson made.”
“Yeah. It must involve lots of money, that’s for sure.” I empty my drink and put down my glass a little too forcefully. But luckily, no one turns to us when it lands on the coaster with a startling thud. I rest my elbows on the table and rub my forehead, trying to ignore the upsetting thoughts about what might happen if Howard decides to sell his bar to Jackson.
The most irritating aspect is that things had just changed for the better. After we got rid of the former head of security, Carl, the shady things that had been happening stopped. Some suspicious looking people were frequenting the bar, and sure enough, once Carl was gone, so were they. Things calmed down, and we all breathed a sigh of relief. But then Jackson showed up with his entourage, and we’ve been worried since. And now we sit and wait to hear some news from Howard.
Damn, I need some fresh air to calm my nerves. Usually, I’m very much in control of my emotions and good at not letting them bother me that much, but this Jackson-thing affects me more than it should.
Just as I want to get up from my chair, Oliver, another colleague and friend, stands next to our table. “Aaron, Howard wants to see you in his office,” he tells me. I study him for a moment and frown. I don’t like the look on his face.
“Why?” I ask.
He shrugs. “He didn’t say. He just told me to get you right away.”
With a deep breath, I get up and make my way to the back of the bar. Getting some fresh air will have to wait. I rub my chest to get rid of the uneasy feeling I have. This whole situation is giving me heartburn. I wonder if Howard finally wants to let me know that he’s made a decision.
When I enter Howard’s office and see who sits in front of his desk, I freeze. My breath hitches in my throat, and I clench my fists. I didn’t expect him to be here. “Jackson,” I spit out his name. “What the fuck are you doing here?”
As usual, a smug smile spreads on his face. “Business. Come, sit down.” He moves the chair next to him towards me with his foot.
I cross my arms in front of my chest. “No, thanks. I’ll stand.”
“Aaron, please,” Howard says in a low voice.
I study my boss with narrow eyes. He avoids my gaze, which makes the uneasy feeling I have even worse. With a shake of my head, I grab the chair and move it farther away from the man who makes my blood boil before I sit down.
Jackson clears his throat. “Howard, would you excuse us for a moment? I need to talk to Aaron in private.”
With a small nod, Howard gets up and walks towards the door. “Of course. You can find me at the bar when you’re done.” And with that, he’s gone.
A heavy silence fills the small office. I run one hand over my face with a sigh while the other grabs the arm of my chair. I hate how I can’t keep my cool in front of Jackson. And what I hate even more is the fact that he knows it.
He leans forward and rests his elbows on his knees. “Aaron, my friend,” he starts.
“Don’t call me that,” I say through gritted teeth. “Just tell me what you want.”
He nods. “I think you know what it is I want. I want close cooperation. You know I can be very convincing. I always get what I want, especially from my staff members.” He leans back in his chair and rubs his chin with a sigh. “I was sad to see Carl go. He was a great business partner.”
I blink at him, and the smug smile is back on his face. “Business partner?” I ask. Fuck, so we were right about Carl, and Jackson already had his hands in the ongoings.
“He was the best at giving my employees and their clients some privacy,” Jackson says with a small nod. “That you never suspected anything should be proof enough of how good he was. Unfortunately, he got a better job offer.”
I snort. “We fired him because we did suspect something.”
He raises one eyebrow. “That’s your version of the story. Well, the fact is, you are the new head of security, and as I want to arrange more meetings here in the future, I need you to take over Carl’s responsibilities.”
I glare at him. “Never. I already told you that.”
With a deep sigh, Jackson gets up from his chair and walks over to the window. For a few moments, he silently watches something going on outside before he speaks again, “I think it’s five years to the day that you had to say goodbye to your dear friend? What was his name? Eric?” With his hands buried in his pockets, he turns to me. “He was a great kid. If only he hadn’t made that stupid, stupid mistake,” he says with an arrogant smirk.
I narrow my eyes at him. My whole body tenses up now that he brings up Eric—my best friend, who was part of Jackson’s gang too. I remember it like it was yesterday; I remember how he had been acting strange in the days before he accidentally ended his life with too much of the drug he was supposed to sell. I blamed his weird behavior on the stress he was having with his girlfriend at that time, but the way Jackson talks about him now makes me assume there’s more to the story. “What are you talking about?” My jaw starts to ache from clenching my teeth.
“I’m sure you didn’t know he was planning to sabotage one of the biggest deals I ever made, did you?”
I jump out of my chair and fix my gaze on Jackson. My pulse pounds in my ears as I start to comprehend what he is getting at. “He would have told me if that were true.”
“He didn’t want you to get involved. For good reason. He was a true friend and didn’t want to drag you into something dangerous. And that wasn’t his first attempt. He had been trying to quit a couple of times, but he realized he couldn’t survive without my support. He needed the money. I was always lenient towards him, but that he planned to sabotage that particular deal and leave the gang to work for someone else was the last straw that broke the camel’s back—or his neck, in this case.”
“You’re lying,” I hiss as I stand there with my gaze still fixed on him and my arms shaking.
He juts his chin forward when he slightly shakes his head and says, “When I found out, I made his death look like an unfortunate accident.”
I can hardly control my anger anymore, but there’s still a small part of me which knows that beating the shit out of Jackson would be foolish. I take in a slow, deep breath through my nose before I ask, “Why are you telling me this now?”
He shrugs nonchalantly as if he didn’t just admit that he had my best friend killed. “I want you to have all the info you need before you make your final decision about working for me or not. I’m sure you will take Howard’s future well-being into consideration—and his wife’s.”
“Don’t challenge me, Aaron.”
I hold onto that last bit of self-control with all my might, but the longer I look at Jackson and the smug smile on his lips, the closer I am to smashing his face, and before that happens, I turn around and storm out of the office. I rush over to the bar, where I find Howard tossing down some whiskey.
“You can’t do that, Howard,” I growl. “You can’t sell your bar. You can’t let him win.”
He turns his head towards me and meets my gaze with a frown. “Aaron, please. Try to understand. He has the means to help my wife. I have no other choice.”
“There must be something else you can do. Anything,” I plead.
Howard lowers his gaze to his drink. He swirls his glass before he empties it and slowly places it back down. He rubs his chin and sighs deeply. “He gave me until the end of next month to decide,” he says just above a whisper. I shake my head, but he lifts his hand to stop me from answering. “Take some time off, Aaron,” he goes on. “With your emotions all over the place, you’re incapable of working. I know you, and you need some time to cool down right now.”
“No, go home,” he interrupts me. “I’ll deal with Jackson. And we will talk next week, okay?” He gets up from the bar stool and turns to me. He places his hand on my shoulder and squeezes it. “I’m sorry,” is the last thing he says before he walks back to his office.
And I have no choice but to follow his order and go home.