“You’re late!” Spencer appeared before I’d gotten too far inside De’Bris threshold. The short, skinny man must have sat lurking, waiting for someone to pounce on.
“You’re lucky I came in at all.” I was in a particularly unpleasant mood thanks to the events of my afternoon and I wasn’t in the mood to deal with the perverted bartender.
“Tina called in and you didn’t show. I figured you were playing hooky together.” He glared, jeweled fingers on his hips. “You’re the one who better feel lucky – I was about to fire the both of you.”
“I’ve had just about enough …”
“Of what, Spencer?” I snarled. “I know Sean owns this place. You’re just a name and a face with no real power.”
“Well, Sean’s not here.” He snapped. “He’s out of town – which means I am in control of everything and everyone in it – hey Ashley!”
He walked away, swinging hips and reaching his arms far out with each stride, as if he thought himself a suave ladies’ man. He leaned, one hand on the bar when he reached the blonde headed dancer.
She giggled. I guess the woman would accept the attention of anyone she thought had a little power. And money. She’d never been one of my favorite people.
I wore plain jeans and a tank. On stage and off. My appearance was the last thought on my mind and I didn’t feel like exposing flesh for the drunken patrons to grab.
I wasn’t much of a dancer. To date, I hadn’t removed my clothes for the crowd. It had become part of my allure, earning me the stage name – Fantasy.
The entire night was a waste of my time. I sat an empty drink tray on the bar and settled on a stool. The place was unusually bare, even for mid-week. Even though my feet usually throbbed and complained, the normal workload would have been a great distraction and the silence didn’t help. No music played because no one danced. No chatter, hooping, or hollering, because only lone drinkers sat at the few occupied tables.
I’d never felt lonely at De’Bris before. There had always been something to look forward to, but now what would I look forward to? Who would smile my way and tell me I’m amazing just as I am? All my life, I’d toiled and struggled, hoping to please the people I cared about – and I never could – but at this place with the blood red carpet and walls as black as the devil’s lair, I’d been good enough – loved – and I didn’t have to try so hard.
Technically, I had started a new assignment, but this one wouldn’t be as fun – if I could pull it off. Doubtful. Tina knew my identity and it had pissed her off. The truth had cost my best friend – Why I thought she would stay in my life is beyond me – It was only a matter of time before she told Sean – Maybe he wouldn’t eliminate me – I’d feel dead just the same.
It was Sean’s memory that haunted me the most at that moment. Who would ever gaze at me as if I were the only woman in the world? Who would make me smile and how would I go on? I saw him in every corner, every shadow. I expected to run into him around every turn and share that awkward dance – where we spend a few seconds stepping the same way before one of us would pause so we could finally pass each other.
I leaned over the bar, grabbed a mug, and filled it with beer from the tap. I doubted a buzz would kill my sorrow, but maybe it could fade the hollow emptiness.
A soft song interrupted the quiet. I glanced at Devo, whose expression seemed as forlorn as my own. The lyrics of the duet ringing so true – as if written about myself and the man I missed.
I felt like a fool. My heart expected to interact with Sean’s and my mind scolded me for missed opportunities until I was trapped in a maze of what if’s. All the things I could have said differently. All the conversations I’d diverted, left me guessing what he would have said if I’d just allowed it.
Yet, I knew I had done the right thing. A relationship would have brought more pain than hurt, far more than what I felt at that moment. I’d pushed him away. I’d wanted exactly what happened, but I didn’t expect it to leave me feeling lost and traumatized.
Spencer opened the door behind the bar and I stared at the illuminated light, remembering the small space between the door and the staircase that led to Sean’s office.
Another busy night – yet fun. The constant smile brought slight pain to barely worked cheek muscles – completely worth it. Spencer was absent – Tina kept the crowd entertained in her confident fun-loving way and I filled orders at the tap.
“You should be the bartender every night, girl!” Tina complimented.
“I know right?” I talked over my shoulder as I placed glasses on the wall of shelves behind the bar. “I’m better behind this bar than I am on that stage.”
“Uh-huh and a lot more guys want to get their own drinks just to flirt with you.” She giggled. “And I’m all for cutting my work load in half.”
“Oh, that’s the reason. And I thought I was actually good at something here.”
“Awe – you are talented.”
“Yeah – sure.”
“You are – especially at one thing.” She grinned an up-to-something smirk, making me raise a suspicious eyebrow.
“And that isss … Hey!”
Sean snatched my waist, pulling me close against him. I hadn’t seen him standing in the doorway behind the bar.
“You’re great at getting Seany’s attention!” Tina let out a loud laugh.
“That she is.”
“You could have warned me, Teen!” I joked.
“It was funnier this way!”
“Gee, thaaaannkss!” I squealed as Sean hijacked my body, dragging me into the space and closing the door.
He trapped me against the wall, his lips finding mine simultaneously. I lost myself in a moment reminiscing of high school. The same thrill of sneaking kisses in the hallway. The same exciting electricity beneath trailing fingers that found their way to bare skin.
A cold touch caused me to flinch and lose the memory I’d recalled so vividly.
“Sitting alone tonight? What a shame.” Carl Bolivar, the target of my undercover mission. The muscular man, bald headed man wore his usual three piece suit. “Where is Gianetti tonight?”
“I don’t know.” I scooted away from the roaming hand he laid on my thigh.
“Come on now. I know for a fact that he is never too far from where you are.”
“I said I don’t know.” I stood to return to my work.
“Is that so?” He snatched my arm, forcing me back to the stool. He draped an arm about my shoulders, his lips nuzzled my neck. I pulled away and feverishly fought the urge to spit in his face – it wasn’t the best idea – this guy was Sean’s rival. A man who wished to claim his territory – and everything in it. He didn’t have the same kind of heart. He enjoyed who he was and every crime he committed.
Suddenly, a pair of large hands shoved Carl off his stool and my partner placed himself between me and the thug.
“She’s something else isn’t she?” Jackson folded his arms across his chest, his eyes boring into his target. “It’s real easy to get hung up on her. I don’t blame ya for it – but I hope you understand that if you put your hands on my girl again – I’ll have to tear your head off.”
“You?” Carl cackled. “Nah – she’s Gianetti’s woman.”
“You’re mistaken – but I heard that’s something you do often.”
“You must not know who I am.”
“Yeah – I know who you are. You’re the man I’m gonna bury in a shallow grave if you touch Jessie again.” He pulled me close.
“You get around, don’t ya, girlie?”
“I won’t have this conversation with you again – got me?” Jackson growled.
The gangster fumed. His hand hovering beneath his jacket.
I held my breath. I’d seen him pull his weapon for less before, but instead. “Not worth my time.” He grumbled. “I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise … and I’m sure it will be entertaining … when Gianetti returns.” He thumbed his nose and walked away.
Nothing about Jackson Callaway hinted that he was a cop. That’s why he fit in so well at De’Bris posing as a bouncer. He was a few inches over six feet. A bandana held back the front of long wavy black hair and a three-day scruff usually accompanied his goatee. I’d never seen wear anything but jeans and a tight fitting black tee-shirt. His employment with the P.D. was surprising. He didn’t take orders, played by his own rules, and didn’t think twice about decking a fellow officer.
I used to think he cared for no one, but he’d shown a softer side during our short time as partners. I trusted him and I think he trusted me – a feat that I know very few could accomplish with him – and like the phantom stalker he tended to be – he’d again had my back in the face of trouble.
“Are you insane?” I uttered.
We stood body against body, as if we truly were lovers.
“Just go with it, Cupcake.” A whisper in my ear accompanied his embrace. “Sean’s left town and Bolivar just lost his interest in you.”
“What are you trying to do?”
“I’m not trying. I did it and Fat Boy’s just gonna have to deal with it.”
“Are you trying to get us both fired?” We’d both accepted a deal with Harkins and the JBI probably suited Jackson’s attitude better than his current position – but what was he doing – I doubted Harkins would honor the deal he’d made with me, but Jackson still had a chance.
“Ah – shit! Woman, I don’t give a shit about that badge. It was just something to do.”
“Something to do?” I laughed.
“I get bored sometimes.”