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Editing by Jen Hendricks
Cover by Sarah Hansen at Okay Creations
Formatter: Elle Chardou at Midnight Engel Press, LLC
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I recognized it right away. Raising myself from my chair, I crossed the coffee shop. She watched her phone, pretending to be the kind of girl who can’t abandon her Facebook page for longer than three seconds. But I knew. I knew
I passed by her table on my way out the door and gave her one glance. A visual brush over her body. I knew she saw me, but she pretended not to. She brushed the wig back and I could just barely see the flash of red hair at the nape of her neck, along with a tattoo. I couldn’t see all of it, but I didn’t need to. I knew that, too. A Celtic knot.
I passed through the door and didn’t look back. Her eyes followed me down the street to the crosswalk and until I was out of view.
She saw me.
“Son of a bitch,” a voice says behind me and I try not to flinch at the sound of it. I’d thought, by coming to this particular bar, that I wouldn’t be bothered by my day job. But it seems to follow me everywhere.
I keep my face blank and turn around.
“Dale, fancy seeing you in this part of town,” I say, automatically sticking my hand out for him to shake. He takes it and guffaws, the sound bouncing around the bar and grinding against my eardrums. I can’t stand this man, but he has no idea. He thinks we’re the best of pals. Golf buddies, gambling buddies, drinking buddies. We are none of those things. Yes, I may do those things with him, but we are not friends. I don’t mix business with pleasure, and I would never mix with his sort. He doesn’t even know my real name.
“Oh, I just decide to go slumming sometimes. You know how it is, Quinn.” He winks and laughs again. Dale thinks he’s funny, but the only reason people laugh at his jokes is because he has money and essentially pays them to.
“Oh, I do,” I say with a smile, hating myself for it the entire time. “Well, I’ve got things to do, if you know what I mean.” It’s my turn for the roguish wink. Christ, I hate doing this, but it’s the price I pay to get what I want.
Dale shakes my hand again and heads further down the bar, slapping his meaty hand on it and calling out to the bartender in a booming voice that I’m sure makes the bartender cringe. I feel as if I should leave him an extra-large tip for his troubles. No doubt Dale will wind up being carried out and thrown into a cab in a few hours. That is, if he doesn’t woo some woman with his promises of jets and jewelry and a wife that’s away.
I hate him.
I leave the bar, considering hailing a cab, but deciding on walking instead. I need the air.
But my feet don’t take me home. They take me to the park. I easily hop the iron fence studded with warning signs; I’ve come here for years and never been caught. I’d say it’s because I’m especially stealthy, but it’s probably pure dumb luck. That’s how most of my life has gone so far. Dumb luck, bad luck, shitty luck. But I’m foolishly trying to change that. So far, things have gone in my favor, but eventually, my luck will run out.
I pace the garden, every now and then peering through a window at the darkness inside. It’s late and most normal humans are tucked in bed with their husband, wife, or another companion. I lean down and take off my shoes and socks, letting the blunt tips of the grass brush the undersides of my feet as I walk.
I have to work tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. I used to relish every day, but now…
Things change. They do. Always.
When I started, I’d been full of fire and vengeance and passion. Now all I feel is boredom and frustration. I’m burning out at the ripe old age of twenty-four. Shaking my head at my self-indulgent thoughts, I head out of the park and back toward my shitty apartment and my shitty bed.
“Hey, Leo,” I say to my cat as he runs to the door to greet me. At least I have him. I’ve never thought of myself as the type of guy to have a cat, but when I found him in a box outside on the street, I couldn’t just let him die. I’d intended just to care for him for one night and then take him to the humane society. That plan went to shit when he curled up in my lap and fell asleep with his tongue partially sticking out. I couldn’t resist him.
I have no idea what kind of cat he is, except that his orange and white fur grows extremely long around his neck, making him look like the least ferocious lion ever.
He rubs himself on my legs and makes a pitiful sound. I fed the beast only a few hours ago, but that doesn’t matter. He’ll sing me the song of his people until I feed him again.
“Fine,” I say going to the cupboard and getting down a can of food for him. He freaks out until I actually put it in his bowl, his tail swishing wildly. Of course, as soon as he’s done with his food, he’ll want to play fetch. Just like a dog.
I get myself a glass of water to start staving off any lingering effects of the beer I consumed earlier and walk toward the living room. I’m no decorator, so my place is filled with things I’ve either picked up off the side of the road for free, or have come from Scandinavian companies through the mail and needed to be assembled.
My coffee table is one of the only things I’ve had with me for a long time. I brush my hand over the corner that’s charred, getting a little bit of black soot on my hands. I rub my hands together. It’s a superstition, but I can’t shake doing this every day.