Authors: Breanna Hayse
Tags: #cookie429, #Kat, #Extratorrents
“I did not see your name on it… What are you doing?” she asked incredulously as he sat down across from her.
“I’m sitting in my booth, Miss. You are welcome to join me if you ask nicely.”
Perlita stared at him before summoning up the courage to tell him what she thought of his arrogance and presumption. The man leaned back with annoyance as she carried on. He studied her carefully, noticing her torn dress made of copious amounts of material, the diamond cross gracing her slender throat, and the spots of makeup on her pretty face. She had plump, pouty lips and an arrogance that rubbed him the wrong way. The girl obviously did not concern herself with post-war economic considerations, indicating that she came from a very wealthy family and likely had never needed to worry about anything. Despite her outward appearance, his sharp gaze did not miss the haunted look in her eyes, the paleness of her face, or the shaking of her hands
. Hmmm, the little chit’s been through something pretty awful,
and she’s scared to death
“Whoa, wait one second, little lady. Calm yourself. Hank Billings, at your service, ma’am,” Hank said, touching his forehead as though he was tipping the hat that sat on the bench. Perlita swallowed—she had not noticed it there earlier.
“Perlita Moretti. I apologize, Mr. Billings, I did not see your hat there. Please, excuse me,” she rose to leave.
“Where you going, Miss Perl? Sit and eat. I insist.”
“Sit, Miss Perl. I’m not asking,” Hank said firmly, his eyes piercing her as he pointed to the seat. Slowly, Perlita lowered herself back into the booth, unaccustomed to being spoken to in such a manner, yet unable to deny the power behind it. It confused her. She had been raised with a silver spoon in her mouth, overly indulged and spoiled by the Don and his men. Anger washed over her. She was Perlita Maria Consuelo Moretti and no one would be permitted to address her so directly.
“My name is Perlita, Mr. Billings, and I would appreciate it if you would not use that tone with me,” Perlita raised her eyebrow after regaining her composure.
“It seems to me, madam, that that is exactly the tone you need used on you. You look like you’ve been dragged through a pile of compost and then some. You by yourself?” he asked with a lazy drawl as he gained the attention of the waitress. “Two specials, Sal. Extra biscuits. Coffee, hard up.”
“I do not eat this… this type of food,” Perlita frowned, looking at him with narrowed eyes.
Hank offered her a crooked smile as he leaned back to cross his arms and stare at her again. “Who said I ordered for you?” He laughed at the furious expression on her dirty, but lovely face. “Oh, don’t get your bloomers in a knot. It’s the only thing here that won’t put your stomach in a twist.”
Perlita said nothing, staring down at the platter that was shoved under her nose. The plate was heaped with flapjacks, a thick slice of ham, scrambled eggs, and biscuits dripping with gravy. A small jar of strawberry jam and a pat of butter completed the picture. Regardless of her initial protests, she felt her mouth starting to water as the delicious aroma met her nose.
“Well? What are you waiting for? Eat,” Hank ordered, diving into his meal with gusto.
“I would much rather have fruit and a poached egg, if you please,” she said stubbornly, although the meal was looking more appealing as each second passed.
“Miss Perl, what would please me is that you ate. You have no meat on your bones. Go on. Try it. It won’t kill you, I promise.”
Perlita’s hunger was greater than her pride and she timidly tested the meal. Hank chuckled, watching her eyes widen before she plunged into the platter. “Slow down, girl. You don’t want to make yourself sick. When was the last time you ate anything?”
“I haven’t eaten since yesterday, when…” Perlita paused, eyes watering again.
Hank frowned, leaning forward. “Anything I can help with?” Hearing these words escape his mouth caught him by surprise. Henry ‘Hank’ Billings was a loner. With few exceptions, he didn’t much care for the company of people and he performed his duties, both in town and on his Texas ranch, with precision and strict professionalism. After trying marriage once, he had decided that women were an inconvenience and served no purpose for him if they couldn’t pull their weight. He had made the mistake of falling in love once—never again. Pleasure consisted of his cattle ranch back in Texas and, once he was finished with his tasks in Pennsylvania, he was heading straight home.
“No, thank you, Mr. Billings. There is nothing anyone can do to help. Unless you know where I can fill my car and get directions to Las Vegas.” Perl’s voice was forced as she unsuccessfully tried to relay confidence. “I can pay you.”
There was that haunted look again. Hank felt strangely protective of the young woman. But hell’s bells, she was almost young enough to be his daughter! Why in heaven would he care about this spoiled little New Yorker with that strangely enticing Italian accent? City girls were even more of a waste of womanhood and too damn worried about their skinny little bodies and expensive clothes. Nah, if he was going to bother with a woman, he wanted one with meat on her bones and the gumption to match her passion for work and in bed.
“I’m not from these parts. Sal might know. Want some more?” He sounded amused, much to Perlita’s dismay. She blushed prettily, suddenly realizing that she had cleaned her plate and was trying to get every last drop of gravy with her tiny bite of bread. She quickly put her hands in her lap and looked down bashfully as he again chuckled at her obvious discomfort.
“No thank you. I must look terrible. Is there anywhere you know of that I can freshen up and stay for a while?”
“I told you, I’m not from these parts. Ok, girl, out with it. What are you running from? I’ve seen that look when I hunt. Is someone after you?” Hank’s voice harbored a touch of genuine concern, in spite of his personal disposition toward city folk. She was still a young girl who obviously was in some kind of trouble and he was too much of a gentleman to disregard it.
“I… I think so. It’s the Piccoli family. Blood vengeance.” Perlita bit back her tears as she told him the story of how the crime syndicates' mob bosses had met to discuss territories and that her father was accused of killing off old Don Piccoli’s eldest son during a raid. It had been an accident, she explained. Joe Piccoli was a known ‘player’ who had tried to force her into marriage, using their fathers’ connections from back in Italy as a means to gain her hand. She had adamantly refused him, repelled by his lewdness, stupidity, sadistic nature, and disgusting lack of personal hygiene. Angry with her rejection, he had gotten himself drunk and stumbled into a crossfire. Don Piccoli, insulted and embarrassed, swore that the Moretti family would grieve to the last drop of their blood. He severed the longstanding relationship that the two families had shared and, one by one, started killing off her father’s men. The final strike had occurred the night before when the Piccoli goons penetrated the mansion’s defenses and eliminated every remaining member of her family, except for her..
“Sorry to hear that, ma’am. Not much for birthdays or parties myself, but I s’pose a gal of your refinement goes for those things,” he scoffed, trying to be polite. He didn’t believe her wild story for a second, and he was truly disinterested in the fantasy she was obviously creating to gain his sympathy.
“You don’t know me, Mr. Billings. You can’t judge who I am by how I was raised. My life has been nothing but happy isolation. I… I never thought they would try to murder me,” she blurted out, tears welling in her dark eyes. “
—my father—was old school and never went after women or children, but something has changed. I’ve known Don Piccoli my entire life. He was like an uncle to me. I never thought I would have to defend myself against him.” She swallowed her tears. “This is the first time I’ve ever been outside the city. Or alone. I… I don’t know what to do. I’m so scared. I need help,” she forced out shamefully.
He eyed her like he would when sizing up a horse, studying her features carefully. Her smooth hands had never seen a lick of work, and her olive skin was sun-kissed just enough to give it a bronzed glow. She was, in his opinion, painfully thin and needed some beefing up in all the right places. Her eyes, framed in long, sooty lashes, reminded him of an oil slick—they were the darkest he had ever seen and they shimmered in the morning light.
“What are your plans? Are you going to keep traveling dressed like you’re taking in a show?” Hank asked, sipping his coffee, still amused by the fairy tale she was spinning.
Perlita frowned. “You don’t believe me! Those men killed my father and my uncle. They are after me now! Don’t you understand, you bull-headed oaf? They won’t stop until I’m dead.”
Hank started to laugh, and reached across to pat her hand. “Ease up with the temper, Miss Perl. I doubt they’ll be able to track you here.”
“Don’t underestimate these men. You talked about hunting… they are the fiercest hunters you will ever face,” she warned, accepting another cup of steaming hot coffee.
“Well, if they show up, I’ll be sure to let them know that they aren’t welcome, ok?”
“I still get the impression that you aren’t taking me seriously, Mr. Billings.”
“And I get the impression that you are quite the little storyteller and probably ran away from home because you didn’t get your way. You’ve had your fun so why don’t you just turn around and go home to your diamonds and parties. Pleasure meeting you.” Hank unceremoniously picked up his Stetson and walked toward the door. He turned as Perlita grabbed his sleeve.
“Are you as stupid as you look? Those men are after me!” Perlita hissed. She rolled her eyes. “Listen, Mr. Billings, I have money. I’ll pay you to take me with you. I need to get to Vegas but they know what my car looks like. Please!”
She sounded desperate and frightened, two traits Hank could do without to complicate his life.
“Sorry, ma’am, but I don’t need your money or the trouble.” He started walking to his truck. Furious, Perlita picked up a rock and threw it at him, striking him in the back. He ignored her until she picked up a bigger one, this time knocking off his hat. Slowly, he reached down to pick up the Stetson, brushed it off carefully, and then turned to look at her. “It’s one thing when you mess with me, Miss Perl. But my hat didn’t do anything to you.”
“Take me with you!” she demanded, marching up to him and staring up into his face.
“I have things to do and they don’t concern you. Don’t you know what the word ‘no’ means?”
“Please. I need help.” Tears sprung from her eyes. Hank frowned, seeing her struggle not to cry in front of him. She was a feisty little thing, that was for sure.
“What you need, lady, is a good tanning. I said no.”
Frustrated, Perlita kicked his shin with all her might, landing the solid toe of her shoe right above the top of his boot. Hank’s eyes darkened. The girl was either truly desperate or very stupid. He decided on the former. No one in their right mind would have dared such a thing otherwise.
“I owe you for that.”
“Then I’ll pay later. Please help me,” Perl begged.
Neither of them saw the large black vehicle roll to a stop next to Perl’s car, or the three men who charged into the diner, guns drawn. Both turned their heads in the diner’s direction as screams erupted from inside. Hank shoved Perl behind his truck and placed his finger on his lips, quietly sneaking around the back.
“Plant your duffs right there! You, doll, on the floor! We’re looking for the driver of that pretty red car out there. Anyone seen her?” a shout boomed across the room. With revolver in hand, Hank inched along the wall and around the corner, giving him a clear view of a dark-suited, broken nosed man who pointed a long gun at the small crowd. A shot rang out from a second unseen assailant and a woman screamed. “Told ya, no heroes! Guido, shut that dame up!”
“Who are you looking for, gentlemen?” Hank asked calmly, his gun aimed straight at the chest of the closest hit man. Before either goon could react to the surprise of a faceoff, two shots were fired from Hank’s revolver and two of Don Piccoli’s men were on the floor. Screams continued from the women as they stared at the bodies, carrying on like there was no tomorrow. Hank grunted, once again convinced that city women were, indeed, useless.
“They’re dead, for Pete’s sake. Stop your caterwauling,” he ordered with annoyance. “Someone ring the sheriff and get these bodies hauled out of here.”
The diner’s proprietor gingerly stepped over the bodies as he angrily approached Hank. “You and your lady friend are trouble, mister. These men have friends and I don’t want to invite more problems. Get out of my place and don’t show your face again.”
“Well, that’s a fine thank you. Good day,” Hank huffed, his general dislike for people reinforced. He peeked under his truck at the cringing young woman. “Get your behind into the cab and I don’t want to hear a sound out of you,” he growled.
Perl noticed his limp as he pulled himself into the truck and waited for her to settle.
“Thank you, Mr. Billings. I’m sorry I kicked you so hard.”
“You won’t be thanking me later, Miss Perl. Trust me, I won’t forget this little insult.”
“Where are we going?” Perl asked nervously, suddenly realizing that she was alone with this big, brooding stranger.
Hank looked at her out of the corner of his eye. He ignored the flutter of his heart as he took in her disheveled but incredibly enticing appearance.
No, she’s trouble, you idiot
“I was thinking the sheriff, but things have changed a lot since I lived here and frankly, I don’t trust local law enforcement this close to the city. I have a better idea. Sit tight and we’ll be there soon.”
Silently they drove further west and onto some dirt roads. Perlita stayed quiet, looking fearfully behind them as they traveled, drawing her legs to her chest and holding them tightly as she tried to soothe her tormented nerves. Her companion was no help, making it clear to her that his assistance was reluctant and any conversation would not be offered amicably. Several hours later, they pulled up to a majestic old farm house, with a front yard filled with big, blooming roses and trellises heavy with ivy.