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Authors: Amanda K. Byrne

Hidden Scars (23 page)

BOOK: Hidden Scars
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       He stepped inside and she wound her arms around his neck, melting a little as he took his time kissing her, cradling her head with one hand as his other arm held her against him. She sighed as she broke the kiss, swallowing hard as he kissed her forehead. “Hey, yourself.” She eased back, when what she really wanted to do was snuggle in. “I’ll go get Krista.”

       “No need.” Krista was grinning as she appeared in the hall. “Hi, I’m Krista.”

       Taylor took the hand the hand she held out. “Taylor. Nice to meet you.”

       Sara and Krista gathered their coats and followed Taylor out to his car, and Krista chattered the whole way to the bar, peppering Taylor with questions. Sara bit her tongue to hold the giggles inside when he either ignored them or gave vague answers, grinning as Krista grumped in the back seat about how unresponsive he was.

       “I did tell you,” Sara said as they walked the few blocks back to the bar where they were meeting Taylor’s friend Paul. “He tends to keep his mouth closed.”

       “I have ways of making him talk.” Krista craned her neck around to leer at Taylor. He looked amused.

       Sara wanted desperately for this evening to go well, so she’d decided they’d shoot pool at one of Taylor’s favorite bars. Sharky’s was dim and full of scarred wood — the tables, the chairs, the bar, the floor. Pool tables took up the back half of the large room, the bar gleaming dully under the lantern lights hanging over it. The air smelled faintly of stale smoke and beer, voices melding with the blues wailing from the speakers overhead.

       Paul was already there, twisting the bottle in front of him in idle circles. His blond hair was shaggy and badly needed a trim, and he lifted a hand in greeting as they wound through the tables toward him.

       Krista snagged her elbow and halted her before they were within earshot, letting Taylor continue ahead to greet his friend. “Did you set me up for the evening? You know how I feel about blind dates.”

       “Maybe. Consider it an incentive to move out here. There are plenty of attractive men like Paul in Portland, although I’d stay away from the ones whose pants are skinnier than yours.” She snickered and ducked as Krista swatted at her. “No, really. Paul’s a friend of Taylor’s. I’m guessing that with what’s going on back home you might not be interested. You won’t hurt his feelings if you’re not.”

       Paul stood as they approached, his wide smile turning to a grin when he was introduced to Krista. The four of them moved to a high table, and Paul and Taylor went over to the bar to collect drinks.

       “He’s cute,” Krista admitted.

       “But he’s not Shane Jones.”

       “But he’s not Shane Jones,” she agreed. Then she straightened her shoulders. “That’s not necessarily a bad thing.”

       The men returned bearing drinks, and Paul settled onto the stool next to Krista, handing her the gin and tonic she’d asked for. “So, Paul, tell me about Taylor. Because

       “I ran away to join the circus at thirteen and my father is a Colombian gun runner.” Taylor’s expression was bland, his tone dry as toast, but Sara saw the amusement gleaming in his eyes.

       Krista snorted and went back to throwing questions at him. He scooted his stool closer to Sara’s, slipping his arm around her waist, and got Krista talking about herself. Soon she was bringing up all the embarrassing stories from their school years Sara had so far avoided, like the time her father had caught them skinny dipping with their boyfriends. His hold tightened as the minutes slid by, and she was breathless with laughter by the time they left the table to shoot some pool.

       Paul racked the balls and Taylor relinquished his hold on Sara to go talk to him. “He’s smitten, Sara. Absolutely smitten,” Krista murmured. “He fits you, you know? You fit together like puzzle pieces.”

       Sara smiled and picked up her cue, stepping around to the head of the table. The break sent balls skittering across the green felt. Paul motioned Krista to the table, and she lined up her shot, the cue ball knocking a stripe into a side pocket. She scratched on her next shot, and Taylor stepped up to the table.

       Balls cracked as they smacked against one another, sliding one by one into the pockets. Krista spent her time when she wasn’t taking a shot trying to get the others to scratch and chatting with Sara. The flutter of panic she couldn’t quite quash after the man in the car drove off yesterday died down the longer the four of them played and joked around. She’d tell Taylor about it soon, but tonight, she wanted them both to have a good time, away from their worries.

       They were setting up for their third game of the evening when Taylor pulled his phone from his back pocket. Frowning at the readout, he threaded his way through the tables, heading for the door. Paul and Sara exchanged glances, the question clear in his eyes. Taylor usually ignored his phone when they were together unless it was family. She had no idea if Taylor had shared the Tony issue with his friend, and she wasn’t about to volunteer any information.

       Her suspicions were confirmed when Taylor strode back through the bar a few minutes later, aloof expression firmly in place. That answered two questions. It was definitely family, and Sara was the only one he’d talked to about what was going on. She hoped everyone was okay.

       “Sorry, but I’ve got to take care of this. Paul, can you get them home when you’re done?” Paul nodded, then went back to the game, the break fanning out across the table. Taylor said goodbye to Krista, gave Sara a hard kiss, and stalked out the door, phone already at his ear.

       “Let me guess. That’s how he rolls.” Krista’s tone was bone dry.

       “Pretty much,” she replied. The panic fluttered back to life, for an entirely different reason. Her gut said whatever was happening in Boston was bad. Very bad.

* * *

       Slamming the car door did nothing to calm Taylor’s anger. He set the phone on the passenger seat and curled his hands around the steering wheel, imagining it was Tony’s neck. He’d squeeze slow and soft to start, the pressure mounting, turning his face red, eyes bugging out.

       The picture was even less satisfying than slamming the door.

       Fuck it. He wasn’t going to get any calmer at the moment. He picked up the phone and dialed his mother.

       She answered on the first ring. “Taylor?” The hysteria in her voice had him cringing.

       “Yeah, Ma, it’s me. How’s Pop?”

       “The doctors say he’ll be fine. They don’t know him like I know him. Your father’s been beaten, Taylor. Those men won’t leave us alone, and he’s going crazy trying to keep them away.” She broke down, sobbing loudly into the phone.

       His hand tightened on the phone, jaw clenched. For once he wished she’d make it less about her and more about the other person. Dramatic waterworks aside, though, he knew his mom was scared shitless. She was being tormented in her own home, and she didn’t feel safe anywhere anymore. It took him another fifteen minutes to get her calm enough that she’d hang up and go back to her husband.

       He called Jamie next, sure his brother would be able to tell him what had happened. His grip on the phone grew tighter and tighter as Jamie relayed the events of the night.

       Tony had sent some of his men around to put the hurt on his dad, a new tactic to get Taylor to cooperate. Jamie had met their parents at the hospital and gotten the details between gasping sobs from their mother. Pop had a dislocated right shoulder, multiple contusions, three cracked ribs, and a broken wrist. His jaw, according to Jamie, had started to swell by the time he’d gotten there, and his nose was broken. He’d been passed out cold in the hospital bed, so he wasn’t able to speak with him. “Frankly, he looks like shit, bro. It’s bad. Ma’s heading for some kind of breakdown, ranting about how the police aren’t doin’ their job if they’re letting Tony get away with this kind of shit.”

       “Getting away with it” was Tony’s stock in trade. The muscle knew the game; whatever you do, don’t give up the man, and you’ll be rewarded. Those men knew who they were working for, even though their orders came from someone else, who got them from another man, and on down the line. Layers stood between Tony and the end result. His territory might have been small, but he ran it with a gut deep paranoia.

       “You been to the house?”

       “Yeah. They busted through the front door. Splintered it right off the hinges. Threw some of the furniture around, broke things, took the TV and the computer, some of Ma’s jewelry. Tried to make it look like a robbery.

       “We can’t take much more of this.” Jamie’s voice took on a load of steel. “Get this man to back off, Taylor.”

       He punched the steering wheel. “Or get them out of the neighborhood.”

       His brother’s laugh was bitter. “And how’s that gonna go? Not quick. Moving away for college is a hell of a lot different than packing up a life. Ma might go for it now. It’d still take a while to get them out. Nothing moves quick these days.”

       Jamie was right.

       They talked a few minutes more, and Jamie promised to get their parents into a hotel room until they could get the front door repaired.

       Hanging up, he tossed the phone on the seat and stared out at the street. A perfectly normal evening, fucked up by a power-crazed mob man three thousand miles away. Tony was going to pay for fucking with his normal. And if he came anywhere near Sara, he’d happily slit the man’s throat.

       The car’s engine roared to life, and he pulled away from the curb. He’d been hoping he wouldn’t have to talk to Tony again. How naive of him. Of course he’d have to.

       The ride home didn’t take nearly as long as he wanted it to, and he almost detoured by Sara’s. He wanted to wrap himself around her, draw in her warmth, her generosity. But he didn’t want to bring the blackness of his life to her doorstep. She had enough to worry about already. And though he had no doubt she’d welcome him in with open arms, she deserved a full, drama-free weekend with her friend.

       His apartment was dark and cold when he let himself in, and he left it that way, walking straight back to the kitchen and retrieving a beer from the fridge. He’d drunk down half the bottle before he picked up his phone again, blocked his outgoing number, and called Tony.

       Despite the late hour, the man sounded like he’d been waiting for his call. Maybe he had. “Taylor. Good to hear from you again. I hope the extra time has given you a new perspective on my request.”

       “The answer’s no. It was no the first time, and the second. It’s always been no.” He’d given up too much to secure his freedom. He was selfish enough he wanted to hang on to it. “What’s leaning on my parents going to accomplish, Tony? Other than drive them out of the neighborhood? You’re losing your leverage, old man.”

, the small sound insincere to Taylor’s ears. “I heard about what happened. I hope your father makes a speedy recovery.” Taylor stayed quiet. “If there’s nothing else, my boy, it’s late. Best be getting some sleep.”

       “Why?” he asked quietly.

       Tony didn’t play innocent, his response immediate. “You’ve good skills, Taylor. Be a shame to waste them. Think of it as a favor for an old friend.” He hung up.

       For long, long moments, Taylor stood in the dark, phone clenched in his hand. Plastic cracked on tile as he slammed it into the counter. He picked up the bottle and threw it at the wall, glass raining onto the floor as the yeasty tang of beer scented the air.

       How much time did he have before he went after Matt again? Or Sara? A week? A month? A few days? He flipped on the light and bent to pick up the broken glass, angry with himself that he’d lost control. He was tired of waiting and reacting. He needed to figure out a way to get Tony off his back for good. Maybe going back to the neighborhood would buy him some time.

Chapter Twenty Three

       The red suit was a bad idea. A terrible idea. Sara tried not to squirm as the recruiter covered a sneer with a professional frown, skimming her resume. For her part, she made her face bright and expectant. There was no way the recruiter would be able to tell she was cussing her out and hurling sharp, tiny pins at her face.

       That was a glorious mental picture.

       The other woman laid the sheet of paper on the desk and folded her hands on top of it. Jesus, it was like she’d watched every bad YouTube video on how to be intimidating in interviews. Sara wasn’t cowed, though she was sorely tempted to walk out before she was asked the first question. This was so not going to go well.

       “You’ve been a sales executive with Jones, Madison, and Compton for over five years. Why leave now?”

       Sara resisted the urge to shrug. “It’s time for a new challenge. While I love my clients and enjoy helping them and solving their problems, the products no longer excite me. And while I’ve handled a heavy workload for the last year, I feel as though I haven’t been getting the support I need, and I’d like a less stressful environment.”

       The interview went on, and she gamely kept up, lying and answering honestly by turns.

       They reached the question Sara had been dreading, the one that comes up in every interview. “Have you ever had to work with someone you don’t get along with? If so, how did you handle the situation?”

       Did you memorize these questions from a cue card?
She considered her choices. She could lie, not point fingers, and say professional conduct wouldn’t allow personal preferences to get in the way. And the recruiter would see right through the lie. She thought of a thousand different answers and discarded them one by one. When she opened her mouth, she was surprised by the truth that came tumbling out.

       “I had some issues with a coworker of mine. Because of the team oriented atmosphere of my current position, it meant there were two execs assigned to each client, with a few exceptions. The executive I was paired with most often wasn’t pulling his weight. I went to my supervisor several times. Each time he dismissed my concerns. It went on for almost a year, until my co-worker decided to hit on me and I filed a complaint with human resources. He was fired not too long ago.”

BOOK: Hidden Scars
2.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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