Worth Every Penny
“I got this.”
Darryl looked at me standing in front of him, his back to the back door, then beyond me into J&J’s Saloon.
I knew what he saw and that meant I knew why he wanted to stay.
What I didn’t know was how this was going to go. Darryl didn’t have a lot going on between his ears, but he was loyal, worked like a horse, was strong as an ox, and, since getting hacked with an ax by a serial killer in order to protect his boss, was insanely protective.
But he knew me. He knew I could take care of myself. Saying that, I didn’t know if he knew what I’d be putting myself through, taking on what was right then sitting alone at the bar.
He looked back to me and jerked up his chin, ordering, “Get his ass in a taxi.”
“You got it, hoss,” I muttered.
He opened the door and kept bossing my ass. “Lock this behind me. Code the security for doors and windows.”
I rolled my eyes but moved forward so I could do what he said, even though I would’ve done that anyway.
I’d learned to be smart, to go out of my way to stay safe and not to take any chances.
I locked up, moved to the security panel, coded it, then took a deep breath and moved down the back hall into the bar.
It was after three thirty in the morning. We were closed. The glasses washed and put away. The trash taken out. The fridges restocked. The cash register cleaned out, money in the safe in the office. The bar top and tables wiped down. Chairs up on the tables all ready for Fritzi to come in in the morning and mop the floors as well as clean the bathrooms and stock them with toilet paper, so when Feb got in tomorrow, she could just unlock the doors and start the day.
He was at the side curve to the bar, had his back to me, ass to a barstool, feet up on the rungs. He had his elbows to the bar, and since I’d poured it for him, I knew he was nursing a glass of top-shelf whisky sitting in front of him. Whisky that set him back a whack, more so seeing as he’d had five shots of it along with the seven beers he’d sucked back the last five hours.
When I’d followed Darryl to the back, I’d left the hinged section of the bar open. I rounded it and took the two steps to stand in front of him.
The minute I stopped, Garrett “Merry” Merrick, lieutenant on the ’burg’s PD, tall, dark, gorgeous, and the last bastion of good guys available in the ’burg—that meaning he was single—grabbed his glass. He put it to his lips and threw it back.
I watched him do it, my palms itching, my eyes to the muscular cords working around his throat.
He slammed the glass down and lifted his beautiful blue eyes to me.
“I’ll call a taxi, Cher.”
I didn’t say anything even as his hand went to the jacket he’d thrown on the stool beside him.
Instead, I moved to the back of the bar, reached high, and grabbed the bottle of whisky that had stayed at its level for months, seeing as it was fifty bucks a shot, until Merry had brought that level down that night.
I grabbed another glass, put it in front of him, and I knew his eyes were on my hands as I filled both glasses, his and mine.
“On me,” I muttered, setting the bottle aside and looking at him.
He tossed the phone he’d gotten out of his jacket to the bar and caught my eyes.
“You know,” he stated. His words weren’t slurred. Merry could hold his drink. He’d had more than his normal that night, for sure. But he wasn’t sloppy drunk. Just, I hoped, feeling no pain.
Or less pain. The kind of pain he was drinking away didn’t really ever go away.
“I know,” I told him.
And I did. Everyone in the ’burg knew.
The finale to a fairy tale that didn’t have a happy ending.
He looked at me a second, then grabbed his glass and lifted it toward me. He didn’t wait for me to grab mine. He took a healthy swallow of his. He didn’t shoot the whole thing, but he wasn’t fucking around.
He set the glass back to the bar.
I wrapped my fingers around mine and leaned into my arms on the bar top.
“She’s a dumb fuck, Merry,” I said softly.
He didn’t look up from his contemplation of his whisky when he replied, “She isn’t. But I sure as fuck am.”
“That just isn’t true,” I returned, and he lifted his gaze to me.
It took a lot, but I didn’t flinch at the depth of pain and strength of anger burning from his eyes. The bad kind of anger. The worst.
The kind where you’re pissed as all hell at your own damned self.
“Got shot of her,” he declared. “Fucked around when I knew I shouldn’t in gettin’ her back. Watched Feb and Colt get it back. Watched Cal get his head outta his ass, find Vi, and hold on. Tanner and Rocky got their shit together, and when they did, Tanner told me. Pointed that shit out to me. Warned me what would happen if I fucked around. Mike nearly lost Dusty, bein’ stupid and protecting himself against somethin’ good, but he pulled out all the stops to get her back and keep her. All that goes down, what do I do?” He shook his head. “Dick.”
He lifted his glass, took a sip, and lowered it.
When he did, he muttered to his glass, “I did dick.”
“Your ex lives in the ’burg too,” I pointed out.
He looked at me, brows slightly pulled together. “And?”
“She also did dick.”