Free Me (Page 12)

Free Me (The Found Duet #1)(12)
Author: Laurelin Paige

JC took it in stride. He swiveled on his stool to face me with his whole body. He had on dark jeans and a dark blue pullover underneath a brown leather jacket. He wore this casual look as easily as he wore the business look. Wore it with just as much sex appeal.

Without a trace of animosity, he said, “You are incorrect about that. It is Tuesday. It has been for…” He glanced at his watch—a stainless steel sports thing—expensive, I gathered, but not flashy. “Exactly five hours and two minutes now.”

Dammit, he was right. It was the problem with working the job I did. My days and hours were always screwed up. I wouldn’t go to bed until around eleven a.m. and, for me, Tuesday would begin when I woke up later that evening. But, for everyone else, it had begun in the middle of my shift.

He’d trumped me again.

I could either let my mistake make me feel foolish, or I could simply concede. “You’re right. It’s Tuesday morning.” Then, I couldn’t help myself, snotty returned. “Still, you don’t have the room booked—and all the privileges that go with it—until tonight.” When I’m not here, I added silently.

Honestly, though I was hard and serious, I wasn’t usually a giant dick. But with JC, I felt the express need to protect myself, and since I had no authority over him with his ridiculous arrangement with Matt, bitchy was the only weapon I had in my arsenal.

If he noticed, JC didn’t acknowledge it. “Ah. True, true. But I’m not here as a customer right now anyway. I’m waiting for Alyssa.”

“Oh.” Disappointment gathered in my belly, chasing away the butterflies like a thick storm. I thought he’d been waiting for Matt. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Because why shouldn’t JC be with Alyssa? She was a pretty enough girl, and obviously she knew much more about the man than I did. Just because he’d made a move on me, did I think that meant he wasn’t pursuing anyone else?

And more importantly, why did I care?

I didn’t. Of course I didn’t. “Well, she should be out in a few minutes. We normally make non-employees wait outside the front door, but since you’re already up here…” Really, I wished he’d leave. “Anyway, I’ll just get back to…” I couldn’t even remember why I’d come down anymore.

Alyssa burst out of the employee room and thankfully cut off my awkward attempt at conversation. “JC, you’re here. How was your flight?”

I turned toward the kitchen, not wanting to interrupt them, or maybe not wanting to witness any displays of affection.

But Alyssa stopped me before I got too far. “Oh, Gwen. I almost forgot. You have a phone call on line two.”

“Okay. Thanks.” The ringers on the bar phones were kept on silent, so it wasn’t strange that I hadn’t heard it. It was strange that I’d get a call at this time of the morning. I didn’t know anyone except the people I worked with. It had to be Norma. She knew I didn’t keep my cell on during work hours. Matt had a strict policy of no mobile devices while on the clock—partly because it was more professional but mostly to protect celebrities and other high-profile club-goers from being photographed and recorded in unflattering situations.

But since Norma rarely contacted me at the club, I was nervous as I walked across the bar and picked up the receiver on the other side of the counter.

“This is Gwen.” I twirled the cord around my finger and glanced behind me at JC and Alyssa. I wished suddenly that I’d gone to another room to take the call. Since Matt didn’t allow cordless phones in the club, I was stuck. He worried they’d get lost, the battery would die, and no one would be able to find them again. Usually I agreed. Right now, I thought that phones that didn’t move were ridiculous.

Even more ridiculous was how distracting JC and Alyssa were. The way her eyes lit up as JC told her whatever it was he was telling her…Pathetic. I wondered if he’d told her she looked good. Wondered if his eyes had raked her body as thoroughly as they had raked mine.

“It’s me.” Norma pulled my focus back to the receiver, her voice tight and low. But she probably hadn’t had coffee yet since it was so early.

Still, there was something too tight about it. Too low. “Are you all right?” Maybe she was getting sick and needed me to bring home soup and lozenges.

“I’m fine. It’s Ben.” She cleared her throat. “He tried again.”

All noise around me disappeared, the laughter of Alyssa and JC no longer registering in my awareness, and all that was left was the sound of my heart beating in my ears and Norma’s voice telling me the thing I dreaded most—Ben had tried to kill himself.

Chapter Four

My world went black. There weren’t any words that could have punched me harder, even though a part of me had known that something was off, known that something was wrong. It was the fear I woke up with every day—that my baby brother would once again attempt to end his life.

I sank down in a move that was more fall than sit. My ass hit the ground and I tilted my head against the back cabinets of the bar, not caring that I was in a skirt or that the floor was sticky from spilled liquor. Wrapping more of my hand around the phone cord, as if that would give me support, I managed to choke out the question that mattered most—the one that meant everything. “Is he…?”

“Alive,” Norma finished with me. “Yes, he’s alive,” she said.

Now the tears came. Not many—I’d been long ago schooled by my father on how to keep them back. Crying usually only led to more swipes with the belt. But every once in a while, the tears would surprise me, pricking behind my lids, a stray sliding down the side of my nose.

I swallowed past the huge ball in my throat, forced myself to find out more. “And he’s okay?” I was fully aware okay was relative and that even if his prognosis was good physically, that his emotional state was likely nowhere near that. I hoped Norma knew what I was asking, because I didn’t have the power to rephrase.

“He’s going to be okay.” She said it definitively, as if she were the person who had the power to make it so. I wasn’t so sure, but it felt better hearing her say it. “He took pills this time. A bottle of Vicodin, but as soon as he’d swallowed them all, he changed his mind. He called 911 himself. They pumped his stomach. He’s in ICU now, but they’re pretty sure he’s going to be okay. They’re watching his liver. That’s the main concern right now.”