69,272
07.03.2019

Say what? Oh, hell no.

Buying myself some time I reach for my water and sip at it.

This guy who I’ve known all of two seconds has asked me to change my profession and basically proposed to me?

Sweet Baby Jesus!

I need to get out of here. I need Nat. Emergency bail time.

I don’t believe what I just heard.

Rage boils in the pit of my stomach. I clench my hands together by my sides and stop myself from punching something.

I planned to spend the day avoiding Tina. It worked out fine when she instant messaged me to say she was a little busy to do lunch today. Perfect, I thought.

I planned on kissing the life out of her tonight and putting myself out there. I want Tina. It was as simple as that. I made the decision that tonight is the night. Or it was.

The guys came to the house a little earlier to set up the Poker table and the girls arrived shortly after eight, minus Tina. I could see Nat avoiding making eye contact with me and thought that was a little odd. She looked really uncomfortable, too.

Then a few minutes ago when Max asked Nat where Tina was and all the girls stiffened, I knew something was up.

Nat tried to brush it off with a small shrug. She said, “Sorry guys, Tina sends her apologies. She had some last minute plans and had to bail on us.”

Max stood up taller looked at her with brows bunched and uttered, “What’s more important than Poker night? It’s family night!” He noticed her stiffen even further and said firmly, “Okay, guys, where is Tina tonight?”

Nat looked down and played with her earlobe. She whispered so quietly I could barely hear her, “She’s on a date.”

Silence enveloped the room.

A date?

A fucking date?

I have a thousand questions to ask but can’t bring myself to begin. Does she even know this guy? Where did they meet? How long has she known she’d be missing tonight? Aren’t these things friends tell one another?

This guy could be dangerous for, Christ sake!

I can’t help but wonder if this rage I’m feeling is a result of jealousy. I come up with the following reason for my reaction – Tina is a good friend who could be out having dinner with an axe murderer!

This brings us to now. I ask, “Does anyone know this guy?”

Nat, Meems, and Lola shake their heads at me. Nat says, “She met him at Winnie’s the other day. All I know is his name is Chad and he’s an Accountant.”

Chad. The name of an axe murderer.

Definitely.

Mimi looks around and offers, “Well, what did you expect? Tina’s a fox, Nik. She’s a great catch for any guy. The perfect catch.”

Lola nods her agreement and softly finishes, “And you guys are just friends, right?”

Rather than answer them, I walk down the hall into my room and shut the door.

Once I’m in I walk over to my bed and lay back on it.

Calm down. Everything will work itself out.

I hope.

After expertly avoiding answering Chad’s extremely invasive questions, I excuse myself to use the ladies room. Once inside, I take my cell phone out of my purse and text Nat.

Me: This guy is a fruitcake! Emergency bail procedure in T-Minus ten minutes.

Nat: Gotcha. Turn you cell phone volume up.

I walk back to the table with a bright smile and sit. I answer some of Chad’s less invasive questions then my cell phone blasts ‘Thrift Shop’ by Macklemore.

Show time.

I take my cell phone out of the bag look at the display fake frowning. I say in an almost genuinely confused voice, “Oh. Please excuse me. This could be important.”

I furrow my brow and answer the phone, “Hello?”

Nat sounds amused when she says, “Blah blah blah. Dog hit by car.”

I widen my eyes and put a hand to my chest. I whisper loudly, “What? No! Not Fluffy!”

Nat answers in all seriousness, “I think we should get a dog. Or two.”

I lower my head, put the hand on my chest up to my forehead and wail, “Oh No! Not my precious baby!”

Nat sounds as though she’s made a decision, “We’ll get two.” More excitedly. “Pugs! We’ll call ‘em Pizza and Donut!”

I wipe tears I haven’t shed off my cheeks. I respond in a shaky voice, “Why? Dear God, why?”

Nat replies as though I answered her previous statement, “Because I get lonely sometimes, ya know!”

I slump my shoulders and force them to shake. I whisper softly, “Don’t make any decisions without me, doctor. I’m on my way.”

Nat giggles and dramatically says, “And the award for best acting under pressure goes to Teeny!” Then her voice turns serious. “But seriously, I want a dog.”

Dial tone.

She hung up on me!

Chapter Seventeen

I gots a boo-boo

It’s Saturday Night.

I’m sure the girls will come to the club tonight. And for the first time in forever, I’m not excited about seeing Tina.

In fact, I’m dreading it.

Poker night went okay from what I could hear of it. I heard everyone laughing and talking from inside my room. The girls left about midnight. I pleaded a headache after I heard about Tina’s date and spent the night on my bed like a stubborn child who didn’t get his way.

Yesterday, I avoided Tina like the plague. She sent me an instant message asking if I wanted to do lunch but I lied and told her I was drowning in work and would be off site most of the day.

Today, Tina came to the office but I had Max tell her I wasn’t in. She brought some cupcakes for us but I didn’t have one. You know shit just got serious when you refuse gooey caramel cupcakes which taste like heaven. I’m not sure what she wanted but I was in no mood to hear her tell me about her fantastic date with Super Chad, Accountant of the Year.

Okay, so call me sulky, but when the girl you really like is not into you, it sucks. And now I’m actually thinking about cutting her loose.

I think I’ll just tell her that work is really busy and that I might not have as much time as I used to for our lunches and get-togethers. Then I’ll cancel Poker night all together. And someway cut the rest of the girls out of our lives. While somehow asking for the VIP passes back. Then we can all go back to how things were before. Uncomplicated.

I’m hanging out with Ghost in the security room watching the CCTV. I know the second the girls arrive.

B-Rock gets giddy and smiles like an idiot. Then I see them. Beautiful as always. Cutting them out of our lives is not going to be easy. Tina is the last in and kisses B-Rock on the cheek while looking at him like he personally shines the stars at night. I know how that look can make a guy feel. I’m normally on the receiving end of that look.

They disappear from camera view for a few minutes then reappear on the CCTV in the VIP area.

I can see they’re looking around for us. After a few minutes, they give up.

Tina still sneaks looks though. She’s frowning. I don’t like it.

Knowing I’m putting that look on her face makes me feel like the world’s biggest ass. Especially, when just a week ago I swore I’d do anything to protect her from looks like that. But that was before my epiphany this morning.

Who’s going to protect me from her?

Ghost sighs and looks towards me. He says, “Clue in, man.”

I’m confused. I reply, “Huh?”

He sits back in his chair and tells me like he thinks he sees it, “Tina likes you. More than likes you. Grow some damn balls and do something about it.”

I scowl at him and spit out, “She had a date the other night. I don’t think she likes me that much, bro.”

He puts his hands behind his neck and smiles. He offers, “If I was a chick and I saw the guy I like every day having to act like I’m not interested, it would drive me nuts. I’d do anything to get my mind off it. Even go on a date.”

I don’t answer; just stare at Tina through the display.

God, why does she have to be so beautiful?

Ghost makes an impatient sound and barks, “Fuck, man, she bailed on the date half hour in. That sound like she had a good time?!”

What?

I frown. I’m confused. “What?”

Ghost sighs and leans forward slightly. He looks at the display and points to the girl of my dreams, “That girl of yours was itching to get out of there. Called Nat to get her out of it. The guy was a dud. Supreme dud. Still living at home and owns a fuckin’ stamp collection.” He chuckles on the last bit.

Are you fuckin’ serious?

“What the hell, man? Why didn’t you tell me any of this yesterday or today?” I demand. I’m pissed.

He leans back in his chair again and smiles cruelly. He shrugs and mutters, “You ask me?”

The fucker.

I narrow my eyes and ask, “Why are we friends again?” I’m genuinely curious.

He chuckles and reminds me, “I think it’s because I always had your back, brother.”

He’s right. He’s an asshole but he’s right. Not once in my life have I ever had to go through things alone. Before Ghost was Max. My little brother always has my back regardless of the situation. Then I met Asher. He was a tall kid with scruffy blonde hair and untrusting brown eyes. Very much like he is today if I think about it. I didn’t shoot up in height til after High School, now I’m taller than all the guys. He was getting taunted by some idiot jock. I went over, stood next to him and asked, “You need a hand?” He looked at me with narrowed eyes and shook his head. The next day I walked past him in the hall; he caught up to me and started walking with me. He said, “I’m Asher.” Without looking at him I nodded my head and said, “I’m Nik.” And that was that. Max, Ghost, and I have been friends ever since. He’s been with us through everything; Marcus’s shooting, Dad’s death, Ceecee’s accident. All the important things. And he’s always been solid, good at helping you when you’re at your worst and don’t think you need anyone. He spent most of his childhood escaping family when he was embraced by mine.

Ghost won’t say it, but he loved my dad as much as I did. The day Dad met Asher Collins he watched him closely. When Ghost was leaving dad pulled him aside and said, “You ever need any help, son, for anything at all. You call Niki and he’ll tell me. I’ll take care of it.” He wasn’t even shocked at what my dad was saying. Dad was telling Ghost if his parents didn’t wise up and stop beating their kid they’d get themselves killed. And Ghost appreciated it. Ever since that moment, Dad was his idol. And Mom won him over early by being over attentive of him. He acted like he didn’t like it but I see how he looks at Mom, like he wishes she was his biological mother. Blood doesn’t mean anything to us. Ghost is my brother.

Ghost looks closer at the monitor and whispers, “Oh shit.”

I’m immediately alert. I look at the monitor. One of the waitresses is picking up a broken glass by Tina’s feet. Mimi and Nat flank Tina and touch her in a gentle way and Lola is holding something on Tina’s leg. The waitress is talking a mile a minute and looking up at Tina apologetically. Tina waves it off, smiles and replies. Lola has removed whatever she’s holding on Tina’s leg. I see her reach over the table and pick up a bunch of napkins and put them on Tina’s leg. I realize she’s been cut and is bleeding.

Lightning fast I’m up and out the door. I run across the VIP area til I reach Tina’s back. Without even assessing the situation I pick her up in a bridal hold and move towards the door behind the bar.

Tina starts with a shrill, “Nik, what on…”

But I cut her off by saying ,“Just a second, sweetheart.”

Tina softens her voice and utters, “Nik, I’m fi—”

And I cut her off again with a firm, “Tina, we’re almost there. Quiet, babe.”

She listens to me that time. She quiets and loosens in my hold. Her arm winds around my neck and her hand softly caresses the hair at the back of my head. It feels so nice I’m worried I’ll push further into her hand and purr like her cat.

On a mission, I carry her all the way to my office and set her down on my desk. Luckily, she’s wearing a dress that comes to the knee. It’s a beautiful deep blue color with a V-neck and puffy short sleeves. She looks like a princess.

I kneel in front of her and hold her calf in my hands. There is a small nick there. It bleeds a little more than I’d like but it’s nothing major. I look up to see her gorgeous green eyes looking down at me and they’re dancing.

Covering my face with my hands, I lean my forehead on her knee and say a muffled, “Okay, I might’ve overreacted.”

She places a hand on my head and her body shakes with silent laughter.

You’re such a putz.

Nik lifts his head from my knee and runs a hand through his hair. He looks tense and says, “God, Tina, I was worried. Like, out of my mind, worried. I thought you were really hurt.”

Wow.

The whole thing was my fault, I was talking to Mimi while walking backwards and stupidly walked right in to the poor waitress who dropped one glass but saved three others.

Good for her I say!

Nik was so worried he came flying out of nowhere, picked me up and carried me away so he could fix me up himself. That’s ridiculously sweet. I didn’t know he could be that way.

I love this man. Actually love him. With all my heart. There’s no denying it anymore. I feel safe with him. Whatever sadness I feel living my life is gone as soon as I see Nik. He makes the days’ worth getting up for in the morning. My heart swells every time I see him shoot that dimple my way.

Please kiss me.

I touch his cheek and whisper, “Niki.”

As soon as I say his name he takes my calf in his big hands and massages it. It feels so good I close my eyes and bite my tongue to stop myself from moaning. He smiles, “Well, I guess I better fix you up, huh?”

I nod and he walks around his desk and reaches underneath it. He pulls out a first aid kit and sets it down next to me. He opens it and digs around. His hands emerge with two things, an antiseptic wipe and a Band-Aid. He wipes the little cut with the antiseptic wipe, it stings a little but nothing enough to make me flinch. I had an eighteen hour natural birth! Nothing will ever be as painful as that.

❮❯