Free Me (Page 4)

Free Me (The Found Duet #1)(4)
Author: Laurelin Paige

“You may have the room booked. But not to do whatever you want.” The room had an explicit lease agreement with definitive rules. He had to have received a copy. He was a regular—none of this could be new to him. And if he thought he could try to take advantage of my unfamiliarity, he had another thing coming.

I clung to that—the rules, the law. Clung to the knowledge that right was on my side.

“Actually, he does have the room booked to do whatever he wants,” Alyssa said meekly.

I turned to see her face crumple into an apology. Whether she was apologizing for not telling me about the situation beforehand or for taking his side, I didn’t know.

I did know there was no way she was right.

As if reading my mind, he said, “Alyssa’s right. I do.”

There’s really only one person who would have arranged something with that kind of authority, but I asked anyway, dreading the answer. “Says who?”

“Matt.” The answer came both from Alyssa and him at the same time.

Then he clarified. “Matt and I have somewhat of an informal agreement.”

What was left of my dignity fell away. If it was true—and I had a sinking feeling it was—then I was in the wrong. It was humiliating. And disappointing.

I’d heard rumors about Matt’s informal agreements, but I’d yet to see them live and in action. Probably because Matt knew I’d disapprove. Since he was my boss, my endorsement wasn’t exactly required. Unless he was worried that I’d go above his head and tell the owner, Joseph Ricker.

I wouldn’t do that. Matt was a good boss and I had no interest in taking his job. But I could at least scare him into ending such ridiculous arrangements. “Maybe I should call him.”

He seemed to understand what was on the line. He tilted his head and before he even spoke, I knew he’d be a good debater. “You don’t really want to do that, Gwen, do you?” He sat forward, both feet on the ground, his hands clasped with his index fingers extended. “I mean, here’s how I see it. Obviously Matt doesn’t want you to know about me. I’ve been booking this room now for what—seven, eight months?” He looked around the room for agreement, which several people readily gave.

Then he looked at me. “How long have you been here?”

“Five years.” I’d been hired as a manager right before my twenty-fifth birthday. It had been my first real job after I’d earned my dual degree in restaurant management and human resources, paid for, of course, by Norma. I hadn’t necessarily intended to stay at Eighty-Eighth, but I’d climbed from part-time assistant manager to second-in-command within three years. The pay was good. The job was comfortable. My boss and my peers respected me.

He pointed his index fingers now at me. “You never work Tuesdays, do you?”

“I don’t.”

“Because Matt’s kept me from you on purpose. Why do you think that is?” His question was patronizing, so I answered only with a hard stare. “No guesses? I have one. I bet you must be the tight-ass around here. The follow-the-rules girl. And the deal I have with Matt, well, the rules are vague. That probably goes against your nature. Doesn’t it, Gwen?”

I hated how he said my name, like he had all the power because he knew that bit of information about me. Hated it and loved it. I also hated how his eyes drew up my body, long and slow. Sensually touching my every curve, my every angle.

Hated and loved it. Hated that I loved it.

I sat on the chair that was still behind me, not trusting my legs to keep me steady for much longer. “What exactly is this deal you have? And who are you?”

“I,” he paused, “am JC.”

I’d never heard of him. “JC…?”

“Just JC.” He said it like it answered everything. Two short syllables to put me in my place.

“As in Jesus Christ?”

A few people laughed. But actually, if Christ really had existed—a point I was not sure on in the least—I imagined he’d be quite like the man in front of me. Magnetic, smooth, surrounded by depravity that he didn’t publicly partake in.

JC chuckled as well, his expression brash and sexy. “I’ve been called that. But usually only when my face is pressed between a woman’s thighs.”

Ew.

Also, hot.

It wasn’t strange for me to hear such lewd comments. I worked in a club. In New York City. I knew crass.

But the way JC said his inappropriate words made the muscles clench low in my belly. Lower than my belly. In forgotten regions that hadn’t been stimulated in years. Hadn’t even been thought about in years. It brought the room to a tilt again.

I didn’t like it. I didn’t understand it. Yes, I was human—a woman with sexual desires just like any other—but I’d learned long ago how to turn those feelings off. They didn’t make themselves known without my permission, and they certainly didn’t send sparks down my spine that ricocheted out to my limbs and ignited my every cell. I did not like it in the least.

So I decided not to acknowledge it. “And your deal…?”

There was a glint in JC’s eye that said he knew exactly what I was trying to hide. Or maybe I was imagining that because he didn’t bug me about it, and I had the feeling he was the type who would. Instead, he answered my question. “I get The Deck every Tuesday. I use it to entertain my friends and associates.”

“You entertain your associates,” I repeated. Ah, I knew what this was. He was the snake charmer. The man who brought the deals into his firm by schmoozing their potential clients with hot girls and liquor. “With strippers?”

“Come on, do you really think these women are strippers? They’re my associates too. Don’t judge them by their lack of clothing.” He eyed one of his guy friends who was currently being straddled by one of the topless girls. “Give it another hour and I bet the men will have undressed too.”

I looked around the room again, the idea so foreign to me. Getting paid to disrobe…I could understand that. I’d come from a life where sometimes you had to do those kinds of things to keep yourself fed.

But to break rules just because? That, I didn’t get. What would it be like to be that uninhibited? To be that unrestrained?

I shook my head. The whole thing was beyond my grasp. It also had me pissed. I felt undermined. And disrespected. When Matt had offered me Tuesdays and Wednesdays off a year ago, had that really been because I deserved it? Or was it simply his way of keeping his dealings outside of my radar?