Beneath These Scars (Page 38)

My heart about leaped out of my chest when someone banged on the front door ten minutes before opening. If it was that skinny chick snooping around, thinking she was going to own this place, she’d have picked the wrong damn day to mess with this girl.

I strode to the front of the store. It was a skinny chick, but it wasn’t Jennifer. At least, not that Jennifer.

“Hi,” a perky brunette said, waving as I cracked open the door. “I’m Jennifer. Your temp.”

I eyed her. “Let’s see some ID.”

Her forehead wrinkled. “ID?”

“Didn’t the temp agency tell you that you’d need to provide it?” It was standard procedure, but usually I let people in the door first. Except today, I wasn’t feeling all that trusting.

“Oh yeah, they did. Hold on.” She reached into the giant bag she carried on her shoulder as a purse. It was cute, but enormous. She could carry a severed head in that thing.

Way to be completely morbid and fucked up, Yve. I cringed at the thought. Seriously, I needed to lighten up.

She pulled out her wallet to retrieve her license and handed it to me through the slice of space I’d left when I opened the door.

Jennifer Patrice Ralston. Twenty-one years old as of last month. Good enough.

I opened the door wider. “Come on in.”

She stepped inside and I flipped the lock behind her. “I’ve always loved this store. I don’t know if you remember me, but I’ve been here before. I bought this dress.”

She executed a quick pirouette and twirl, and instead of being annoyed, I instantly decided I liked the girl. She’d bought one of my favorite dresses—red and black with a cute boat-neck collar and a wide pleated skirt—and she wore it well, especially paired with super-cute rhinestone-studded silver flats. She’d fit in just fine.

“I remember the dress, but I have to apologize, I don’t remember you.”

“No worries. The dress is certainly more memorable than I am.”

I studied her pierced nose and shoulders tattooed with epaulets. “I think that’s probably an unfair statement.”

She was quick with her smile and even quicker with her giggle. The girl would be absolutely no protection, but her company was welcome.

“How about I show you around and get you acquainted with the inventory?”

She rubbed her hands together. “Let’s do this.”

Two hours later I had a girl crush on my new temporary employee. In fact, if she sold one more item that cost over two hundred dollars, I might just try to steal her away from the temp company completely. They’d apologized up and down for screwing up and not sending her the day they were supposed to. I wondered if that meant I could get them to void the no-poaching clause in the agreement I’d signed.

Because that’s how a businesswoman thinks, I told myself. Which reminded me, I needed to decide my next course of action before I really did lose this place to the other skinny bitch Jennifer.

Part of my brain screamed that I should just go to Harriet and lay it all out, but the other part of me knew that I couldn’t walk in empty-handed. Either way, I needed to set a deadline for myself. If I didn’t have a plan by this time next week, I’d go to her. I might be proud, but I wasn’t a fool.

The back buzzer sounded, and I checked my watch. It was time for our daily UPS delivery, which was basically like Christmas that came every day.

I headed for the door and pulled it open. “Hey, Kevin, how’s things?” I asked the big black man who’d been asking me out since almost my very first day at the shop.

“Things would be better if you’d just go out with me, Ms. Yve.”

He was a good man, the kind of man I should date. But that was the problem—I didn’t know what to do with a good man. He wasn’t the kind of guy I could invite home for one night; he was looking for a woman to warm his bed every night, the kind of man who’d take me out somewhere nice to try to impress me. The kind of man who’d wait until the third date before he tried anything serious, and then on date thirty-three, he’d probably get down on one knee and propose.

Lord knew I’d never get married again. No way in hell. There was no upside to marriage that I could see. And a good man like Kevin? I’d just break his heart.

So I said no. Again. “You know that’d just be asking for trouble.”

“And yet I keep asking, beautiful.”

I smiled at the compliment. “You’re always smooth, I’ll give you that.”

“Because one day you’re going to give in to me.”

“I keep telling you not to get your hopes up.”

When I reached out to accept the package he was holding just out of reach, he said, “What’s a man got, if he doesn’t have hope, Yve?” His tone was serious as his warm brown eyes bored into mine.

With a line like that, if my life weren’t such a complete disaster, maybe I would consider taking him up on one date. Maybe.

The front door chime sounded, and I heard JP, as she’d told me she preferred to be called, chatting with whoever had entered.

“Hope can be a dangerous thing, Kev.” My smile was almost certainly sad, but he didn’t let it discourage him.

“I think you need someone to show you that hope is the most beautiful thing there is, except for maybe you.”

“Nice line,” a deep voice drawled from behind me.

I didn’t have to look over my shoulder to identify the source. Titan’s voice was imprinted on my memory, and probably would be for the rest of my natural life. It also seemed that my reaction to him would continue to be predictable. My entire body hummed to life as soon as it registered that he was in the vicinity.