Rough Hard Fierce (Chicago Underground Boxed Set)(10)

By: Skye Warren

It had been a little over a month since I’d met Colin—since I’d fucked him. I had told Colin what I needed, how I needed it, and he had refused. He hadn’t misunderstood—the brief display of force he’d shown when he flipped me over had disproved that possibility. There was no doubt he was strong enough, but he’d been gentle, kind, almost…loving.

That’s not what sex was about for me. Not anymore.

As Bailey and I entered Shelly’s apartment, Shelly glanced at me with that blank expression she usually reserved for her johns and then peered back out her blinds. The boarded-up street front was hardly a pretty view. Besides, in our neighborhood, it was best to stay away from the windows.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“That car,” she said. “I don’t suppose you recognize it.”

I sat Bailey in the middle of the room, where it’d take her at least a full minute to get up to any trouble, and peeked between the slats. A dark car, probably black, sat out on the street that formed a T with ours, facing our apartment building. I squinted. Between the distance and the glare on the glass, I couldn’t tell whether those shapes were passengers or merely seats.

“No,” I said. “Why?”

“I saw it there last night. Kind of odd. When I got back from the store this morning, it wasn’t there. Now it’s back.”

It could be anything out on the street. I wasn’t sure why this particular car spooked her, except that it did look rather shiny—as in clean—for this area. And though I couldn’t quite tell from the shape of it, it seemed somewhat new. Nice cars in a bad neighborhood spelled trouble.

“It’s probably nothing,” I said. “Or the neighbor in 6A. He’s got shifty eyes.”

“Yeah,” she agreed. “Probably nothing.”

It looked like I’d rubbed off on even Shelly. I didn’t like seeing her shaken—that wasn’t her—so I went for distraction. “Bailey has a new trick.”

“Oh?” she asked, some of the scary flatness fading from her eyes.

“Bailey, catch.” I gently tossed the large, soft ball to her. She pounced on the ball as it hit the floor, accurately guessing the arc if not quite catching it midair yet.

“Yay!” Shelly clapped. “Who’s my good girl?”

Bailey giggled. Previously we had only played roll, so this was a whole new world for her. I left them to their new game so I could change and get to work.

* * * *

The bakery was a study in facades, the front of the shopping-strip building all brick, with fancy porticos and signage. Back in the employee parking lot, the cement was exposed, shorter than the brick wall. The contrast reminded me of a movie-set prop.

The inside was split too. The front room, where the customers came in, was spacious and tiled and clean. The back rooms were unfinished, the innards of the building exposed and cramped. Between the two, it was fitting that I was in the back. It wasn’t pleasant, just where I belonged.

When I went inside, my coworker and slacker supreme lounged against the counter. I forced myself to smile at him as I clocked in. “Hey, Jeremy.”

He glanced at me—my mouth, not my eyes—and then away. “Hi, Allie.”

“So…what have you got for me?”

“Two wedding cakes in the freezer. Cupcakes on a timer. Rick took an order for tomorrow.”

“Shit, tomorrow? What for?”

“Don’t know,” he mumbled, staring intently at the refrigerator beside me.

I managed a weak smile. “All right. I’d better get started.”

He shrugged and went into the bathroom. His shift was up when I got in, so it’d be on me to make whatever order Rick had agreed to.

After washing my hands and checking on the cupcakes, I went in search of Rick. He looked up from his paperwork. Not bothering with his customer smile, he said, “We got an order for a birthday cake. Fifty people. Over-the-hill theme. Tomorrow.”

“Jesus, Rick.”

“Don’t start with me. This is business.” Yes, business. The business where I cooked the cake using my recipes, decorated using my ideas, and took home a barely legal hourly wage. I wasn’t too bitter about that, but I didn’t want to work overtime on top of it. Not when Bailey was home with Shelly, and Shelly needed me back so she could go to work and make much more money selling her body.