Chapter 1: Watch Where You're Going
The beep of the scanner rang out as I moved the can of soup across it. I cast the old woman on the other side of the till a smile. Being the cashier at my local grocery store might not be the most thrilling job, but I was good at it.
When I finished ringing up the woman, she paid and was on her way. I locked down my register and headed for the back of the store and toward the break room. I pushed through the swinging double doors and walked down the hall until I turned into the artificially lit break room. The light here was too bright and cast things in a sickly yellow glow, but it was the only space we were allowed to be on our breaks. The scent of stale air mixed with old food filled my nostrils, and I sighed. I lived a glamorous life.
I went to my locker and pulled out my lunch before I sat at the vinyl table in the center of the room. I only had an hour left of work, but I hadn't been able to take my break earlier as Sandy, my coworker, had to go home sick. My stomach growled to remind me it was about to start eating itself.
I unpacked my salad and pasta before I dug in, the hum of the lights the only friend I had.
Footsteps clomped down the hall and I sighed through my nose as Ms. Yates entered the break room.
“Do you have any plans this afternoon?" She asked as she started rummaging around in her own locker. Her black hair was cut in a sharp bob and her skin was leathery from all the fake tanning she did.
I shook my head even though her back was to me. “No. Just laundry."
She whirled around with a wide, cold smile. The charms on her wrists and neck jangled. She was a mage and she wanted everyone to know it, hence the witchy charms. There were cats, witch hats, magic wands, cauldrons, and more. I didn't think mages actually used any of that stuff, but whatever. Ms. Yates was one of the few supernaturals that openly existed in our town, so I had little to base my assumptions off of. “Excellent. Then you can work this afternoon to cover for Sandy."
“I covered for Jason yesterday," I said with a frown.
Ms. Yates nodded. “I know, but the only other person who can take the shift is Ella, and she has three kids. She should probably be with them."
I wasn't stupid. I knew I was being guilt-tripped. The problem was that it was working. It always worked on me. I let out a slow breath and nodded.
“Thank you so much, Tallia." Ms. Yates turned and walked out of the break room, making it pretty obvious she'd only come in to get me to stay this afternoon.
I blinked down at my salad before I shoved a big bite into my mouth, my fist clenched around my fork. Another day, another covered shift. I knew why it was always me. I was a sucker for a sob story. Heck, it didn't even have to be a good one.
My legs ached to go for a long run, but now that I had to work a double, I knew I wouldn't have the energy for it when I got off work.
I was twenty-one. Maybe it was time I started looking for a more professional job. Something that paid a little better than a cashier. Especially one that valued me as an employee.
I shook my head and released a sigh. That felt like a big ask. I'd never been valued, even outside of work.
The rest of the day dragged by. I was still tired from my double shift the day before and now I had to do it again today. It wasn't right. I should get benefits for being a full-time employee, but technically I was part-time. Full timers made a whole dollar more an hour too. I'd kill for that.
When my shift was finally over, I hurried to the break room to remove my smock. I shoved both it, and my cardigan, into my locker and ran my hands down my t-shirt and floral A-line skirt. With a smile on my face, I exited the room and made my way through the store until I was about to exit through the front doors.
Warm, muggy air clung to my skin as I stepped outside, and I had to hold back my shudder from the temperature change. The grocery store was always so cold.
There was an extra bounce in my step as I made my way across the street and down the sidewalk. The sun was just starting to set, and the thought of the coming darkness made me yawn. My eyes closed and I tipped my head back, but I didn't stop walking.
That is, until my body slammed into warm, rock wall and I grunted.
Hands came down onto my shoulders to steady me, and I shuddered as I blinked and opened my eyes. Muscles. So many muscles. It wasn't a rock wall, but a very, very sturdy man.
I was five-foot-seven, so not short, but as I tilted my head back, I sure felt like it. The man had to be around a foot taller than me and was so dang big. He was wide and practically dripping with cut muscles. He looked to be in his late twenties, so at least a few years older than me. His skin was a rich, golden tan and his chocolate brown hair fell in loose waves to his shoulders. He had squarish features and a sharp jawline that was covered in trimmed scruff. His nose was strong, his brow heavy, and his dark green eyes bore into me as they seemed to dim and brighten, then dim once more.
I sucked in a deep breath and stepped back. I blinked up at him and had to force my mouth to close. They didn't make men like him in this town.
His fingers dug into my shoulders and a low rumble came from his chest.
My heart leapt into my throat and my eyes went wide. His fresh cut grass and musk scent tickled my nose and made me want to bury my face in his chest but that was weird. Too weird, even for me.
Suddenly, the man released me like I'd burned him and narrowed his eyes at me. Power radiated off of his huge body and slammed into me. I gasped. There was something strange about him that I couldn't pinpoint, but the look in his eyes was sharp and not friendly at all. His lips twisted into a frown.
Oh snap. He looked absolutely terrifying like that.