A/N - so I've had a bit of a break since finishing Trying Not to Love You. Had a few story ideas, and this is currently the strongest one. So I've got a few chapters head start. May not post quite as often as usual, but will try my very best.
Would love to hear your thoughts, good, bad, other?
Thanks for your patience.
"This had better be good Mike, this is my day off," Coop slumped back in his seat and laid a hand over his eyes as he waited for the response. He trusted Mike, his head of security more than anything, and whilst he was annoyed at being disturbed on a night off, he knew this would be for a genuine reason.
"It's Wicker...or rather his sister."
Coop, or rather Mitchell Cooper, though no one had called him Mitchell since he'd left High School, pinched the bridge of his nose, since he'd allowed his best friend and roommate's sister to 'rent' a room above his garage, she'd been nothing but trouble, without really doing anything.
"She's in the club, Freya?" That was about as unlikely as snow in July.
Mike chuckled, "for sure. Dressed like an exotic dancer and drinking straight bourbon. So far I've managed to keep her secluded by the bar. But it's getting busier, and you know what the Saturday night crowd is like..."
Mitchell Cooper rolled his head back eyes closed and cursed loudly. Saturday night in a seedy backstreet bar in upstate New York was no place for a woman like Freya Wicker. She reinvented the word naive. He cursed again, she'd be worse than a lamb to the slaughter. And he'd promised Oscar he'd look out for his sister.
"Why..." He groaned, answering his own question, "like you know. Damn Oscar Wicker and his exasperating sister. I'll be there as soon as I can. Will you..."
Mike laughed again, "I'm not making it obvious that I am keeping my eye on her, I'm not about to tolerate a drunk woman scratching my eyes out. I've done this long enough, if someone approaches she won't welcome me interfering, but I won't let it get out of hand...if you get here ASAP."
Coop needed no further encouragement; he reached for his shoes as he pulled himself into standing. His night of morose reminiscing suddenly disappeared rapidly. "I'm literally on my way."
Fortunately the back street club that he'd inherited at the same time as the home he now lived in was only a five minute drive away, and his large SUV covered the ground in super quick time.
The neon sign of 'Rumors' blinked at him through the inky blackness of the street as he stopped the truck and jumped out. By the time he reached the door he'd remotely locked the vehicle and shoved the keys in the pocket of his jeans, and the smell of cheap chicken wings and stale beer had engulfed his senses.
He wasn't exactly proud of the calibre of clientele that the club attracted, it was no high end social venue, hell it was barely low end, but it was busy, there was rarely any major trouble, and it paid well. Saturday night was always busy, tonight a poster reminded him that there was a heavy metal tribute band playing. The hard working patrons loved that as a way to unwind. He knew there'd be head banging maybe some roughhousing. Hence Mike being behind the bar. So why the hell was the emotionally inept and socially unprepared Freya Wicker there? The least likely person to occupy a seat at the bar.
Three months she'd been staying above his garage, and he'd barely had more than an occasional conversation with her, she was mousy, scared and prudish, wrapped up in her baggy clothing with her horn rimmed glasses, barely saying boo to a goose. He ignored the voice that reminded him that she'd made him challenge his beliefs and his choices more than once since then. And now...tonight, now he was bailing her out of potentially one of the most dangerous of situations of her life, a naive and stupid girl. She was no more than that, unarmed and un-chaperoned in his own bar, a bar filled with people who made presumptions about the other people gathered there. He cursed Oscar once more, or more importantly the answer phone message he'd left a couple of days ago.
'Coop, got an unexpected job thing, a week or maybe two in Florida...will you keep an eye on the girls? Wouldn't ask, but Krystal is a bit pissed off...and you know how Freya is. She's a bit stressed since she started work. Call me if you need me, phone will always be on. Cheers buddy."
All delivered in his cheery British accent. Coop grimaced, then threw the door to the club open.
As expected the place was rammed full, with ninety percent of the clientele being male, single, hardworking men, who were out for one thing only. Mike waved from across the room, and Coop knew from the heads turning that he cut a traffic stopping figure cutting through the crowds to the bar, he was head and shoulders above most men, and still as ripped as he'd been in his twenties, before he'd turned his back on a perfect career in sport. Not that anyone gathered there knew that about him.
As he grew closer, Mike nodded to his left and Coop followed the gesture, to seek Freya. And he gasped. Oscar's sister, the naive bespectacled geek, who buried her nose in a journal or a book every hour of the day, who was almost invisible in her demeanour, and barely managed more than a few sentences in his direction...in anyone's direction, was sat there sipping on some sort of alcoholic drink, gin? Vodka? He wasn't sure.
Three strides was all it took, though he displaced more than a dozen people, and he was beside her, and as he reached for her drink, to take it from her hand, he suddenly took in her get up. In the moment before she realised he was there he stared at her. He'd never seen her in anything but the baggy sweaters and track pants she seemed to live in, despite the weather being warm. She had worked in a hotel for the last few weeks, so presumably she did wear work uniform, but he'd never seen it. Today...he shook his head, Krystal must have dressed her, as her clothing could only be explained by her brother's girlfriend's eclectic taste and exotic dancer background.
Saying that, on anyone else the skin tight tiny red skirt and the strappy almost see through top, also in red, would look cheap, nasty, SHE should look cheap and nasty. But despite the four inch stilettos that hung from her feet, the makeup, the hair...she looked anything but. When she turned her face up to him, anger at someone snatching at her drink, he could barely recognise her as his rather unwanted house guest. Her eyes, normally framed by black horn rimmed glasses were sparkling, a shade of blue that bordered on green, and her hair, normally scraped back in to a ponytail wafted voluptuously around her shoulders. She was a million miles from the shy, frumpy woman he'd seen earlier in the week. She was beautiful. And it stunned him.
He took a deep breath, ignoring the feelings coursing through him, he was just shocked, he was NOT attracted to his friend's sister, regardless of the unwritten guy rule, she was nothing like his type. Like your type has turned out well! Ignoring that internal monologue, he looked down at her, "you shouldn't be here Freya."
She gave a snort, then snatched at her glass, taking a large slurp via her straw, "it's a free world, and I'm paying. Nothing to see here Mr Bar Owner."
He shook his head, "this isn't the sort of place for you. Let me give you a ride home."
"I don't want a ride home," she hissed, "that is the last thing I want. Now Mr...Mr Jock," she spat the last word at him. "...piss off and leave me alone."
He wanted to laugh, at her insults, her indignation, her anger, the flare of her eyes as she glared at him, but he kept seeing the quiet, meek woman who'd dipped into his life the last few months and couldn't equate the two as being the same.
"Freya, honestly. Let me give you a lift. Please."
She shook her head vehemently, then gestured to the barman for another drink. The man looked up at Coop nervously, and before he could instruct his worker that NO, this woman did not want another drink, said lady had pulled herself forward onto her elbows on the bar and was snarling at the poor barman.
"I am paying, so don't look at him for anything...if he is going to bar me, throw me out on the street," she gestured wildly with her arms, "...then that's different, but I've done nothing wrong. So I'd like another gin and tonic please."
Again the barman looked at Coop, who shrugged, then pulled up a stool beside the infuriating woman.
"What are you doing?" she snapped without moving her eyes from her drink.
Coop shrugged, "promised your brother I'd keep an eye on you. This is not a situation he would want me to leave you in."
"Mr Cooper," she'd finally reverted to his full name, and he tried not to laugh, "I am twenty seven years old, and my brother has NO control over my life, let me remind you."
Coop shook his head, the humour threatening to take over him, "you think so? So the woman who needed a place to live, a new job...the remnants of her life picked up by her older brother...that's not you?"
Instantly her glazed eyes dropped and he could see physical pain wash over her, and immediately regretted speaking to her like that. He was the king of dodgy pasts, the last thing he wanted was people reminding him of that, she would feel no different. Everyone was entitled to a past, to mistakes...
"Sorry Freya. That was out of order."
She shook her head, as though she was trying to clear a haze, "no, you're right." Then, gesturing up and down herself, she added, "why the hell would this make ANY difference?"
Jumping to her feet she staggered rather elaborately, unaccustomed balance reactions in the foreign high heels not helped by the alcohol she'd imbibed. Coop was wise to it, and reached out to cup her elbows.
"What the hell are you playing at? Coming HERE, getting drunk...you KNOW what sort of place this is?" He hated that he growled at her, but as the owner he should feel embarrassed that his bar was a pick up joint of the worst type, but until that moment he hadn't cared. He did now. She looked up at him with wide eyes, for a moment the innocent girl he'd seen yesterday looking forlorn was back.
"Right, my office, now."
He tried to move her to the corner of the room where the coded entry door discreetly hid, but she was wobbling almost uncontrollably. With a groan, he half squatted then, pulled her protesting over his shoulder, carried her fireman's lift style towards the door, ignoring her half hearted attempts to batter his back and shoulders in anger.
In the sanctity and safety of his office, he dropped her on to her feet once more and Freya staggered again, so despite her still indignant protests, he pushed her down on to the sofa, then running his hand through his hair, he started to pace the floor.
"What's going on Freya? I don't understand, you."
She scowled at him, but he could tell that she was starting to struggle against the effects of alcohol, "leave me alone. Do you get off on kidnapping me like this?" When he scoffed at the ludicrous nature of her comment, she dragged herself to her feet, with the heels she was only a couple of inches shorter than him, and she squared up to him. "Funny? You find it funny? YOU kidnapped me."
He shook his head, "don't be so dramatic. I'm saving you from any one of many predatory men who were reading the short skirt and heels as easy game. Is THAT what you wanted? To end up in some back alley being too drunk to consent to anything? Rape?" He didn't think that his patrons were criminals, but she didn't need to know that. He had to make her realise how ridiculous she was being.
Again she wobbled so he had to reach out and steady her, but in an attempt to step away from his grasp she fell against the arm of the sofa. With an angry grunt she kicked off the shoes, then turned back to him, "I just came here for a drink, you are out of order."
He shook his head, "No. I'm not. My friend's baby sister has turned up in my bar, looking like chocolate for all the rabid animals that frequent it. Plus you are wasted. I am not leaving you in there to face them, to face THAT. I promised I'd look after you while he's away. So get over it little girl."
And there it was, that spark of anger again, "little girl? You are a first class prick Mitchell Cooper. Do you know that? If I want to put myself out there, in the bar, then it's up to me. You hear?"
It was his turn to laugh, and her infuriated grunt at that only humoured him even more, "you are WAY out of your depth Freya. You need to get home and sober up, if you want to come back tomorrow and discuss what you're up to, then I'll be ready to talk to you then."
She scowled again, then slumped on to the sofa, resigned for a moment.
Sighing with relief that the fight in her had finally lessened, he sought out his car keys, the office had an independent side door that would release them onto the street next to the building, and they could get to the car without having to traipse back through the bar.
Slipping out of his leather jacket, he draped it around her shoulders, covering her up, "come on, I'll take you home. You need to sleep."
She glared at him for a moment, but she didn't argue, instead she let him pull her to her feet, then lead her out into the night. Her resignation saddened him slightly, but he was more than glad to get her out of there.
Sat in the front seat of his huge car, she stared at him passively as he reached across her to fasten the seatbelt, then he turned around to move to the driver's side and climb in beside her.
The journey passed in silence, and when he pulled on to the driveway next to his converted warehouse home, he thought she may have fallen asleep. But she wasn't, she was still scowling, but a lot less fiercely. Helping her from the car, he directed her towards his home.
"But I live..." she pointed at the garage and the door that led to her room above it.
He shook his head, "no way am I leaving you on your own...you can have your brother's bed. That way I can keep an eye on you."
Despite her protests, she was too drunk and too tired to fight him. So she trotted in behind him, her shoes still hanging from her fingers redundant.
In the lounge he cut to the utility room and found a gym t-shirt and handed it to her, he needed her out of those ridiculous clothes ASAP. "Put this on and get into bed, I'll bring you some drugs and water. You'll need both."
She lifted her chin in defiance and opened her mouth to respond and he laughed, "don't even think about arguing. Go."
When he knocked the door and pushed open the door, he saw her tucked up under her brother's black duvet, swamped by the huge t-shirt, her eyes already half closed. Making her take the pills, and a good drink of the water, he lowered himself onto the bed beside her, "what are you playing at Freya?"
When she looked up at him there were tears in her eyes, "I just want him to like me...he thinks I'm childish...he thinks I'm pathetic."
His heart lurched at her pity, "what? Who does?"
She laughed, "I need to get experience...with men. He'll like me then, he won't laugh at me. He thinks I'm a baby. That's what I wanted, someone to teach me. But you stopped me..." Then she looked up at him her eyes wide, "You can do it. You'll teach me...won't you?" She suddenly smiled, but the alcohol causing her eyes to seem glazed. "You have had a million lovers. I've seen enough...You can teach me how to flirt...how to kiss...how to make love?"
Then her eyes flitted closed and she started to snore.