Chapter 1 : Another Long Day
Another day, another long ten hours on my feet. They prickle and ache with every shift of my ankle, especially as I step out of my old beater of a car. The pressure I have to apply is agony on my arches as I limped up the rickety steps of the porch that wrapped around the house. With a quick beep, the car locked up, not that anyone would have wanted to steal a hunk of metal like her. She wasn't worth a dime.
Every light in the house was off, which wasn't unusual for a weekend.... Hell, even weekdays Dad would be gone into the wee hours of the night. Gone and wasting away what little he earned from the government, of course.
How he ended up here, I'll never understand. It was like one day he just sort of snapped, and sucked our savings dry. The savings that Mom had saved up for years before she died. The medical debt was one thing, but Dad's gambling addiction? Even worse. About twice that amount.
We were never going to get ourselves out of this mess. Hence, why I was planning on leaving. Dad had to learn sometime that I wasn't always going to be there to bail him out. Which I had been doing… a lot.
I opened the door, turned on the foyer light, and locked the door right back up behind me. I wasn't taking any chances in this neighborhood.
As I eased my shoes off, though, a moan of relief and pain as the pressure was released escaped past my lips. When I moved through the house, my feet screamed for attention. I shuffled limply to the fridge door and swung it open to grab a can of soda before I cracked it open and downed the contents. The cold carbonation felt like heaven on my parched throat.
Those last three hours were busy as all hell, and I hadn't had a moment to breathe much less take even a sip of water.
Finally, after I'd quenched my thirst, I splayed out my apron and took out my tips from the night. A hundred dollars and some cents. It wasn't a bad Friday, but I had made more before. I'd hoped that it would be enough to get us by, but I wasn't sure with this small bundle.
I separated it into chunks, then took each one and went into my room and placed the separate groups in an envelope on my desk. One titled “bills" got the biggest chunk, while the other one, “emergency fund," received the next largest portion.
They were both tearing at the seams as the money within expanded the material, bulging out so that it barely wanted to close. I wish I had the time to get to the bank, but I maybe made it there once a month, as I was always at work when the banks were open and off when they were closed. Maybe I should swing by the nearest one Monday morning before I head between my two jobs. The cleaning agency had me busy up until 10:00 in the morning when I had to rush to the restaurant. Maybe I could get off a bit early just to get to the bank.
I was reaching for the third envelope when the doorbell rang.
I checked the time. It was well past midnight, and I hadn't been expecting any visitors. I hobbled across the floor and did my best to get to the front door. I winced the entire way, my feet prickling with pins of agony. As I reached the door, though, a shiver bit at my spine, and I froze. My mind brought up the memory of the odd car that had been following me on the way home, and there was a terrified thought that they could've found out where I lived. What if it was another loan shark? Another gangster that my dad owed? I didn't know if I had the strength to deal with that tonight. I gulped, eyes wavering, as I leaned forward.
As I peeked through the peephole, my throat closed on me, and my chest tightened. I didn't want to open the door. I wondered whether he would just leave if I remained silent. My heart was pounding in my ears, and my body warmed at the sight of the man on the other side of the door. Why was he even here?
There came a pounding against the door now, his large hand a heavy weapon against the wood. I jumped back and took a second to calm my heart.
I took in a deep breath as I unlocked the door and allowed it to swing open. I stared up at the masculine features and bundle of muscles that stood before me.
His dark gaze stared down at me, a brow c****d. His signature look, if he had one.
There it was, his arrogant, yet soft smirk that sent tendrils of need down into my very core. I bit back a gasp, my teeth sinking into my lower lip. I was exhausted, my limbs ready to fall off, and now I had to be extra careful of what I said to this man. The man that I had been pining after for years. Since I was in high school.
Jaxon was my father's best friend.
Well, at least he used to be. Dad sort of burned that bridge years ago.
“Sara," Jaxon nodded and moved inside as I shifted to the side to let him in. No use in keeping him standing there. He'd wait all night, stubborn bastard. For some reason, that made me like him even more.
Once he was completely inside, he eyed the table that held my apron that was just visible from the living room. He narrowed his gaze and turned back on me.
“Did you just get home?"
“Uh, yeah." I did my best not to limp as I went into the kitchen, but I know I failed epically. Especially as Jaxon tracked every slight movement of my body with precise attention. “I had a long day. Sorry that I haven't checked in lately."
Why he even wanted me to check in once a week still eluded me.
“It's been almost a month, Sara. Are you overworking yourself again?" His voice, a constant low growl, was close behind me as I approached the fridge.
“Beer?" I offered with a glance back at him. I tried not to make eye contact because his gaze was almost always too intense to function under if I allowed myself to fall into them.
“I'm fine, thank you."
“Sure." I leaned back against the fridge and shrugged. “I like working. It gives me something to do."
Jaxon stopped on the other side of the room and looked down at me. “But you're doing more harm than good. What use is the money if you're going to kill yourself getting it?"
His brow was furrowed, his lips pressed into a sneer. “Jaxon, I'm fine. It won't always be like this."
“What, until you get that house?"
“Or another one…"
This made him stop for a second. “Did they turn you away again?"
“It's fine. It wasn't the right one, anyway."
“Sara, you're working your ass off to get out of here and refuse to accept any help. You have ten percent of the payment already, but without credit the bank won't give you a loan. You barely have time to deposit your money, much less get to a bank to fill out an application."
“For your information, I did fill out an application, and I do make it to the bank. Once a month."
“Exactly. Look, let me cosign your application. I don't expect anything–"
“No. Jaxon, we've been over this. I refuse to accept charity."
“Sara, it's not–"
“Jaxon, please. I need to do this on my own. I need this independence from him."
His brow dipped once more and I could see the twitch in his expression as he tried not to scowl. “I am not connected to him."
“Not anymore, but once a best friend, always a best friend. You know my dad better than me. I want to distance myself from everything that has to do with him. I love him, but I need to get out."
“Sara, you deserve to be free of these chains he's tied you down with." He walked around the table and moved closer to me.
“Even if that means cutting ties with you?"
I didn't want to even think about that. Much less truly entertain the idea. Over these last few years, I had grown unusually attached to Jaxon. He was my rock, even though having him show up on my doorstep so late at night wasn't the best. I enjoyed his company. It was the weekly visitations that I looked forward to. Each and every time.
“You should cut ties with everything, everyone. Especially with me."
Heart in my throat, I forced out the question. “Why's that?" Why was it like that? Why should I have to cut off ties with him? The one person that truly cared for me. Watched over me without any ulterior motive. I couldn't give Jaxon up. There was no way I was going to cut ties with him. Ever.
Jaxon folded his arms and leaned back against the wall. His voice drew me in, and I almost inched closer. “I am much, much worse than your father."
I watched him silently for a second, taking in his body. His broad shoulders that could span an entryway. The gunmetal gray eyes that followed me around everywhere. Each and every movement I made, Jaxon seemed to lock onto. I didn't mind it, though. I enjoyed having his attention, even if it was to simply make sure I was okay. Healthy, taken care of. Nothing more.
Shadows played over his eyes and he growled out, “Sara…"
I waited, my breath hitched up in my throat, as I longed for him to respond. Would he reply? There was darkness in his gaze, and I wondered if he knew what I was really asking. This wasn't about the certain ties he had to the underworld, but the feelings I wished he had for me. The attraction I felt on such a basic level, that I had hoped a part of him had felt too.
The way his shoulders tensed up and his body went rigid, I guessed that he had reservations about elaborating. Or sharing what his world was truly like.
Jaxon Deverioux… the King of the Underworld here in the city. The one that ran the crime, especially the gambling dens my father frequented.
I just wished he'd fu*k me already…
I was opening my mouth to say exactly that, my mind spinning. “Jax—"