Authors: Kaye Blue
Tags: #Interracial Romantic Suspense
In the week of our acquaintance I’d learned that she brought a ham and cheese sandwich on wheat for our two a.m. lunch, she kept her headphones in almost religiously, and she was completely, utterly, unyieldingly committed to ignoring me.
I’d made a couple of friendly overtures, nothing too aggressive, just standard getting-to-know-you crap, and she hadn’t reciprocated a bit.
She was about as distrustful as I was, which was impressive, but as impressed as I was, her distrustfulness did not get me any closer to my goal.
And, perversely, I took it as a challenge. I hadn’t experienced being iced out like this in…ever, really. And it got under my skin.
Like I said, people liked me, trusted me, something that was my bread and butter. But she was a brick wall, so I would have to become a wrecking ball.
“Wait here. Don’t touch anything. I’ll be back in five minutes,” she said.
It was the same as every other day, Ruby delivering her lines without even looking at me. I was about to shake things up.
“I think I’ll come with you,” I said.
She glanced at me then, eyes sharp, seemingly her preferred expression, and shook her head.
“No. You stay here.”
I was getting nowhere and fast, so I tried for a different tack.
“Look, Ruby,” I said. “I don’t know what your problem is with me, but I’m trying to work here. I need this job, and I can’t do it if you won’t let me. We don’t have to be friends. We don’t even have to be civil. But I won’t let you mess this up for me.”
The words had hit their intended target point-blank, and I could see her resolve crumbling, and I knew that my gambit had paid off. She was immune to charm, or so it seemed, but temp-employee solidarity worked every time.
“I don’t have a problem with you, but I need this job, too, and they are really particular about security here. I don’t want to do anything that might fall back on me.” She sighed, her expression softening slightly. “But you’re right, I’m supposed to show you how things work, so I guess I will.”
“And besides, if I’m with you, you can keep an eye on me.”
I’d intended it as a joke, but she nodded approvingly.
“Good point. One I should’ve thought of earlier. Anyway, same rules apply. Don’t touch anything.”
She pulled the two trash bags off the cart, tossed one at me, and then scanned the access point. We were in the basement, and every other time we’d come down here, she’d left me in the service-elevator area, not allowing me beyond it.
But I was on the verge, finally about to see something that might be interesting.
The door clicked open, and Ruby walked through, holding it for me.
She let it go and the door clicked closed behind us.
I looked at the knob and then to her.
“An alarm goes off if it’s propped, so we have to be locked in. I have a key to override in case something goes wrong with the system.”
I’d figured as much, but her confirmation was helpful. And, more importantly, that they required the janitors to lock themselves in told me that there was something worth protecting down here.
“And this one doesn’t have the scan lock. We have to use the key.”
As she spoke, she lifted the key she kept around her neck off, and unlocked yet another door.
“Let’s make this quick. I don’t like it down here,” I said, feigning discomfort on the outside while inside I wanted to do a partial victory dance.
“Yeah, it’s a little creepy,” she said.
And it was creepy. The service elevator was very dimly lit, but this room was bright, almost blindingly so. There was a table, a small wastebasket, and stacks and stacks and stacks of lockboxes going up about eight feet, a ladder along one wall, presumably to reach the important stuff at the top.
As I stood still while she quickly emptied the small wastebasket and then wiped down the table, I glanced around. This room held untold fortunes; I knew it, and I also knew that what I sought was here.
“Let’s go,” she said.
I looked at her as she moved toward the door and then unlocked it when she reached it. A smile curved my mouth as I watched her. She was tough, but not unreachable, and if I handled this just right, she’d melt in my hands.
I’d found my way in.
“What are you listening to?” I asked two weeks later as Ruby and I took a break.
She’d thawed considerably, opening up so much that she said hello at the beginning of our shift and good-bye at the end. She was the most stubborn woman I’d ever met, but I was determined. Ruby was the only thing standing between me and my payday, and I would get what I needed from her. It might take years, but I’d do it.
“Nothing interesting,” she replied.
I was excited; she’d actually responded to a question. Her answer was completely meaningless and not at all revealing, but it was progress.
“Do you like the work?” I asked later as I pushed the cart down the carpeted hall.
She chuckled. “It’s my dream job.”
I laughed in response, but quickly stopped when she continued. “It’s not so bad. It can be pretty boring, and a little scary in here, but you can’t beat the pay, and it leaves me time to…”
“Time to what?” I said, genuinely curious.
“Nothing important. What about you; do you like it?”
I could tell she’d only asked the question to divert my attention, but it was the first time she’d reciprocated and shown any willingness to engage with me, so I pounced.
“Like you said, pay’s good. And it’s way easier them a lot of jobs I’ve had. But the coworkers could use improvement,” I said.
She stared at me, silent for a moment, and then she laughed out loud, her round face shifting from wary and distant to warm and open and in the blink of an eye, her broad shoulders shaking with laughter. She stopped quickly, but that little glimpse of her happiness had been amazing.
Not that it mattered. I didn’t care about Ruby Struthers the person, only what she would bring me.
“Sorry about that,” she said. “I really am nice. Well, sometimes. But you wouldn’t believe the string of people I’ve had to deal with.”
“You might be surprised,” I said.
She lifted a brow.
“I mean, yeah, the money’s good, but it takes a special person to work nights doing janitorial. People think it’s easy, that anybody can do it, but if you have the wrong temperament, you’re not a good fit. And in a place like this…”
I trailed off and looked around, but I could see Ruby nod her agreement out of the corner of my eye.
“Sounds like you’re no stranger to temp work or janitorial,” she said as she emptied a wastebasket.
“I am not,” I responded. The exact nature of the temp work I referenced wasn’t what she had in mind, but I had spoken the truth. And I really couldn’t imagine the different types Ruby had encountered over her years. But if Titan wouldn’t spring for a janitorial crew and chose to use a temp agency, they got what they deserved.
“Enough chatter. Let’s wrap this up,” she said.
I nodded, and then headed down the row of cubicles, excited at my progress.
“You still around, Ruby?” I yelled out of my window as I left at the end of our shift.
“Yeah. Just wanting on the bus,” she said.
She sounded nonchalant, but she looked into my car with hungry eyes no doubt brought on by the warmth that flowed from the open window.
“You okay?” I asked.
“I’m fine,” she said. “See you tomorrow.”
I’d driven through the security gates as morning dawned, same as I did every morning, and Ruby had walked away same as she did every morning, but as I’d driven down the main road, I saw her waiting at the bus stop, huddled against the cold.
“Get in, Ruby. Who knows when the bus will show up?”
“I’m fine,” she repeated, this time not looking at me.
“Ruby, get in the car,” I said firmly.
She stayed on her spot and eyed me warily, and, fortuitously, as she stared, a great gust of wind blew, shaking the bus-stop sign. She looked down the road in the direction from which the bus would come, and then back at the car. Without speaking, she got in.
“Thanks,” she said as I pulled off, though she sounded anything but.
“You sure? I can make you wait, you know,” I said, smiling slightly as I cranked up the heat.
“Sorry. I just don’t like to take things from people,” she said.
“I understand, but you have to pick your battles, and I think this morning was a good one not to fight,” I said.
“I guess so,” she replied.
She gave me directions, and we drove in silence, her quiet, eyes drooping with tiredness. We made it to her house, which was older, looked small, and seemed a little worse for the wear.
“Thanks again,” she said.
She smiled, looking genuinely grateful this time, and I was struck by the beauty of the expression.
“See you tomorrow,” she said as she got out.
I watched her, my gaze clued to her backside, until she unlocked the door and entered the house.
I was getting closer.
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
“We need to expedite things,” Daniel said.
“And you need to grow a fucking brain, dumb ass,” I said, whispering harshly, angry.
“What? We need to talk.”
I grabbed a wastebasket and emptied it, then handed Daniel an empty garbage bag, hoping that doing so would create a plausible explanation as to why he was talking to me.
“Remember what I said, Daniel. Sit tight; don’t do anything. We’re getting close,” I said.
“What, flirting with that janitor is going to get you close?” he said.
“Daniel,” I said, glaring at him dangerously, “do your part, and let me do mine.”
“That’s what I’m worried about. You’re not doing anything and getting you laid is not on my agenda,” he said.
I just shook my head. “Amateurs. The janitor is the linchpin of this whole thing,” I said.
“She has the key to the room with the lockboxes around her neck,” I said.
“And the schematics are in there?” he asked, eyes growing wide with greed.
“Have to be.”
“And the door only has a manual lock?”
“Then why not just pick it? I assume you can do that.”
“Sure. I’ll just kneel right in front of the camera and pull out my lock-picking kit.”
“So are you going to…?”
“What? Kill her?”
His brows knitted together, his expression concerned.
“No, I’m not going to kill the janitor.” Daniel, I wasn’t so sure about, though. “I won’t have to kill her. She’ll give me what I want.”
Daniel smiled, understanding blooming across his face.
“I see,” he said.
“Good. Don’t let this happen again. If I need you, I’ll find you. Now get the fuck out of here before someone sees you.”
Daniel scurried away, and just in time.
Ruby returned moments later, and we finished our rounds.
“You seem quiet tonight,” she said a little later.
Bit by bit, day by day, she’d been opening up to me, and we developed an easy, almost friendship. But I was distracted, annoyed by Daniel’s intrusion. And annoyed with myself. I wouldn’t admit it to him, but I hadn’t been as dedicated, had spent so much time trying to get Ruby to trust me, that I hadn’t been completely focused on the objective. But that would change. It was time to accelerate.
“Sorry, I’ve just got stuff on my mind,” I said.
She nodded, and we continued our work in silence.
Bright and early Saturday morning, I parked in front of Ruby’s house, exited my car, and walked up her three front steps. The second seemed a little wobbly, and I wouldn’t want Ruby to hurt herself on it.
I shook my head to clear that thought and then banged on the door. We’d come far over these last weeks, but it was time to take things to the next level. After waiting about ten seconds I banged again, and ten seconds later a riotous-looking Ruby opened the front door.
I took her in, noting how different, how much younger, she looked. Our work uniforms gave absolutely no hint of her shape save its roundness, but as she stood in her door frame, dressed in tight black shirt with thin straps and blue jeans that skimmed her full thighs, I saw her in an entirely different light.
In the uniform, she appeared to be an undifferentiated mass, but today, her abundant breasts, the slight taper of her waist, her full hips and thighs gave her a bit of feminine appeal. And, to my surprise and not entirely displeasure, I felt a stirring of something.
I needed to get that key, needed to get close enough for her to trust me with it, and all the better that it seemed doing so wouldn’t be an entirely unpleasant task.