One week earlier…
Indi knew he’d be trouble the first moment she laid eyes on him. Men in suits were always a problem for her. She felt like she’d had the words “harass me asshole” tattooed onto her forehead from birth. And, of course, he was sitting in her section. Her anger prickled over her skin ever so softly, but she ignored it. Instead, she sucked in a deep breath and began walking over to his table.
“Do you want me to take him for you?”
Indi stopped mid-step and turned to look at the only other male friend she had besides her brother. Rhett had only been working at Jerry’s for a few months, but she felt as if she’d known him her entire life. Rhett’s mismatched eyes were soft and cautious as he waited for her answer. One eye was a light sky-blue and the other a pale pistachio-green.
He nudged the six-foot-four mark, his broad shoulders tapering down to a narrow waist and muscular legs. He didn’t look like much with his clothes on, but Indi had accidentally walked in on him when he was changing out of his uniform one evening after the cafe had closed, and he was packing some serious muscle under his Hanes.
Indi smiled, shaking her head at him. “Nah, I’m good.” She rubbed the back of her neck, working some kinks out as she prepared herself to talk to the customer in her section. Plastering a fake smile on her lips, she made her way over to him. The guy’s dark eyes watched her the entire way with all the eagerness of a hungry predator.
Her skin practically crawled with anger. She wanted nothing more than to physically, and painfully, stop him looking at her like something delectable. Shaking off the murderous impulse, Indi pressed her omnipresent anger farther down into her belly.
“Hi. What can I get you?” she asked, keeping her voice light and easy.
The guy’s top lip curled up a little in the corner. “Hi,” he replied smoothly.
She stared into his eyes, realizing they weren’t dark brown as she’d originally thought, but black––as black as clouds that threatened a tempest.
“So…what can I get you?” Indi tapped the long end of her notepad against her thigh to stop herself from being tempted to reach for the hunting knife she always kept in her boot.
He licked his bottom lip slowly. “How about your phone number?”
She curled her free hand into a fist at her side and let out a deep lung-full of air. “Sorry, we’re not serving that today.”
His dark gaze lingered on her breasts. When he met her eyes again, Indi was glaring back down at him, her fingers twitching spasmodically, desperate to reach for her weapon to let it do the talking for her.
“Look, I can come back once you’ve decided,” she said, turning around to leave, but his warm hand on her forearm stopped her. She turned back, visually tearing strips of his skin from his body.
“I’ll have an espresso,” he said, not taking his hand back.
“Fine,” she replied through gritted teeth. “Do you mind moving that?” She nodded down at her arm.
“I will when you tell me your name.”
Indi silently thanked Jerry for not insisting on the staff wearing nametags. “Nancy,” she replied curtly.
He squeezed her forearm gently. “Nancy,” he repeated in a drawl. “That wasn’t so hard now, was it?” His voice was rich like dark coffee and she could see the appeal. “Nancy, you have the most extraordinary eyes.”
“They’re contacts,” she snapped before faking another smile and stalking off.
Her whole body shook with the effort of not turning around and slugging the guy in the mouth. When she got to the front counter, her boss Jerry was standing behind the coffee machine working on an order.
“An espresso, Jer. Please.”
“Are you okay?” he asked without looking up from his work.
She smiled at him. “Are you worried about me?”
His dark blue eyes found her face. “I’m worried about what that guy said to you.”
She shrugged her shoulders. “It’s nothing I can’t handle.”
He gave her his serious eyes. “Are you sure? Because I can get Rhett to take his order over there.”
“Jer, it’s fine. He’s in my section. I can handle him.”
“All right,” he said softly. Indi watched his expression relax as he went back to work on her order. She lived alone now, but she and Jerry had lived together since she was fifteen and he was eighteen. As far as she was concerned he was her brother and the closest she had ever come to having a real family.
Jerry finished up the order, placing it onto a saucer on the counter. Indi looked up to find him staring down at her with his usual concern.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” he asked while placing a warm hand on hers.
Mustering up a small smile, she replied, “Peachy.” Indi picked up the saucer carefully and walked back over to table number three.
“So when do you get off, Nancy?” the guy asked as she put his coffee down. She ignored his double entendre. “Cat got your tongue?” he added when all she did was stare back at him.
“Late,” she replied sourly.
She watched him turn the coffee cup on the saucer and leveled her gaze on him once more. “Won’t your wife wonder where you are?” she asked in a quiet snarl.
His eyes darted down to the tan mark left from his wedding band. “We’ve come to an agreement, me and her. She only does vanilla sex and I…don’t.” He smiled, his lip curling up in the corner again. “So, what time?” he asked, running his index finger over her hand. Indi flinched away from his touch, folding her arms under her breasts, her hands curling into fists.
“Touch me again and I swear to you I’ll remove your hand with my knife,” she said in a low, threatening voice. “And I’ve never made a promise I haven’t kept.”
He never even batted an eyelid. “I’ve got an apartment over in Waterside we can use. I’m a very successful businessman,” he preened.
“You disgust me,” she spat.
He gave her a sly smile, but the heat in his eyes didn’t match. He was hungry for something more than just flirting. “I like wildcats.” He grabbed her wrist, wrapping his fingers tighter and tighter until she felt her circulation cut.
“Let go of me,” she hissed. He maneuvered her around the front of his body, blocking what they were doing from the rest of the cafe.
“Or what, hmm? Are you going to attack me? Are you going to scream for me to let you go? I’d like that, you know.” He jerked her a little closer until they were sharing a breath. “Fight back,” he suggested.
Her arm moved faster than he was able to track because she’d pulled the knife from her right boot with her left hand and held it against his skin. “Let. Me. Go,” she breathed.
He released her wrist, laughing at her—a gentle, rolling rumble of a sound—and pressed his neck into the tip of the blade until a small bead of blood rose from his skin. God, she was tempted to just run the blade across the front of his throat, to let his life force spill out of his body from a five-inch wound. She would have done it, too, if she hadn’t felt Rhett come to stand behind her. With a warm hand on her upper arm, he let her feel the strength he possessed.
“Indi? Drop the knife. Now isn’t the time for this.” He spoke the words calmly and softly into her ear until she loosened her grip on the handle. She stared into the asshole’s dark eyes as Rhett talked her down. She wanted to hurt the guy, but she also knew she couldn’t shed any blood in her brother’s cafe after he was good enough to give her a job. “That’s it. Give me the knife.” Rhett’s huge hand curled around hers and tugged to get her to let go of the handle, but she resisted. She wouldn’t be left unarmed.
With a jerking motion, she pulled the knife from his neck and held it against her thigh. She turned to look at Rhett and shock made her take a step away from him.
“What?” he asked softly, dropping his gaze to the floor. She could have sworn that his eyes were two totally different shades of green and blue for half a second.
“Nothing,” she replied when she could talk. Indi fixed her gaze back on the man.
“I’ll see you later, Kitten,” he said in a low voice only meant for her ears. The threat ignited Indi’s rage. Her movements were fast, her hand curling into a fist and slamming into his neck, just under his ear. Most people didn’t know about the bundle of nerves there. The asshole’s eyes rolled back in his skull before he passed out, his face colliding with his coffee and the table top with a loud, fleshy slap.
* * *
Jerry launched himself over the counter and ran to the back of the cafe where Indi’s customer had just slumped over in his chair. Dark coffee dribbled down from the top of the table and onto the carpet beneath.
“Indi? What the hell?” he demanded. His eyes darted to the knife she was holding against her leg to Rhett standing behind her, his expression just as unreadable as Indi’s. Fixing his gaze back on Indi, he asked, “Well?”
“It was my fault, Jerry,” Rhett said calmly, turning to face him fully. “I accidentally elbowed him in the face as I was trying to get her to step away.”
Over Rhett’s shoulder, Jerry could see Indi’s shock at hearing his words. Rhett had just lied for her, but why? With Indi still fixed in his gaze, Jerry asked, “Is that true?”
Her haunting eyes glowed slightly and she nodded. “I was resisting him. I tried to elbow him and he elbowed the customer. Sorry,” she replied just as calmly.
A low moan escaped from behind them. They all turned to see the customer coming to. Jerry pushed them both aside and went to the man. He had to get him out the back and cleaned up as quickly as possible. Jerry slid the man’s arm around his neck, lifting him up, and started moving towards the storeroom. The customer’s head lolled about as he shuffled them both towards the door. Looking at his profile, Jerry took stock of his injuries, noting the swelling already building around his eyes and the cut to the bridge of his nose. Blood trickled out of one nostril, one bright, red drop threatening to take a nose dive from his chin and onto his ridiculously expensive suit.
Jerry shoved the door closed behind them with his hip, placing the guy down onto an upturned milk crate. As he leaned him against the wall, the bastard suddenly came back to life again, pushing Jerry away and pitching wildly to his feet. Jerry took a few steps back with his hands outspread before him until his butt hit the edge of the sink.
“I’d sit down if I were you,” Jerry told the man in a flat voice.
The guy’s charcoal eyes fixed on his, and there was nothing friendly in them. He now had a death grip on his nose, trying to stop any more blood from ruining his Tom Ford suit and silk tie.
“Sit down,” Jerry repeated, giving him his back to look for the first aid kit that was supposed to be under the sink. When Jerry turned around again, the bastard had sat down, but didn’t look at all happy about it.
The guy had his head tipped back now, trying to stem the faster flowing tide of blood from his nose. “You should fire that girl,” he growled, the sound coming out with a nasal cadence.
“Thanks for the suggestion,” Jerry replied indignantly, pulling on a pair of surgical gloves and cutting the top of the saline tube off with a pair of scissors from the kit. With a clean square of gauze, he squirted the solution onto it and held it out for the man to take. He doubted the guy would let Jerry anywhere near him right now. “Dab this against the cut on the bridge of your nose.”
After an unfriendly look, the man took it and held it to his face.
“Has your nose stopped bleeding yet?” Jerry asked after a long minute of absolutely stifling silence. The man released his index finger and thumb from his nose carefully and breathed in deeply, his eyes starting to water with the effort.
“You should go to the hospital. I think it’s broken,” Jerry said stiffly.
“What are you, a doctor?” the bastard snapped, gently prodding his broken nose with a finger.
“No, but I’ve done first aid. The angle of your nose is wrong.”
“I’ll sue that bitch for the medical bills,” he mumbled under his breath. Jerry felt a small peak of anger welling inside him. He was normally a pacifist, but he wouldn’t stand for any man threatening Indi in any way. Abruptly he crouched down in front of the man.
“What happened between you two?” he demanded in a hard voice.
His dark eyes settled on Jerry, and he fought the shiver that seemed to be crawling up his skin under his gaze. “That’s none of your business,” he snarled, baring his teeth.
Jerry shrugged his broad shoulders at him. “Fine,” he bristled. “But if you sue her, or press charges against her—if you threaten her in any way—I’ll deny any wrong doing on her behalf. My other waiter will do the same.” After all, Rhett owed him after he lied to his face like that.
The man gave him a hard look. “You fucking her? Is that it?”
In that moment all Jerry wanted to do was add to the bastard’s list of injuries. He stood up from his crouch. “I think it’s time for you to go.”
The man narrowed his eyes at Jerry then got up. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a business card and handed it to Jerry. “You’ll be hearing from my lawyer soon. This is my card.”
Jerry stared down at it, then back at him. He knew he was bluffing. He wouldn’t press charges or sue Indi. His ego was bent out of shape––that was all. But he took the card and read the embossed lettering carefully. Mr. Wright was in development. Jerry knew he was big, too. Wright Constructions had actually built his new apartment block at Waterside.
“Let me walk you out,” Jerry said. He opened up the door, gesturing to Mr. Wright to leave first. After he closed the door to the storeroom, Jerry glanced over in Indi’s direction, finding her cleaning up the mess she’d made with Rhett. Jerry followed Mr. Wright to the front of the cafe, stepping outside for a little more privacy in case he had some more opinions on Indi.
Mr. Wright wheeled around and looked Jerry squarely in the eyes. “Some advice between businessmen: Don’t shit where you eat. If you’re banging that girl, she’ll fuck you over in more ways than one. I’ve seen it done before.” And with that, he turned on his heel and stalked off.
Jerry turned back to the cafe determined to find out what had really happened between the two of them. Indi was wiping down the coffee machine when he came in. He stalked over to her, took her by the upper arm and dragged her out to the storeroom.
Rhett was suddenly there, standing in front of him, blocking the way. “Jerry. It wasn’t her fault. It was mine,” he said. The words he said were benign, but the way he said them, the way he positioned himself, carried an unspoken threat.
“This is between my sister and I, Rhett. I’ll be speaking to you afterwards.” Jerry tightened his grip on Indi’s arm and pushed through the storeroom doorway. Slamming it shut behind him, Jerry crossed his arms across his broad chest, feeling the seams strain across the fabric on the sleeves.
Indi began swallowing convulsively just as Jerry realized what he was doing. He was scaring her. She was the victim of rape. She was so messed up about it that just being confined in a room with a man set her on edge. If they didn’t have the relationship they did, Indi would have drawn her blade as soon as the door had been slammed shut. She would have fought her way out of the room before anything else could happen to her.
Jerry took in a giant breath, released it, uncrossed his arms and moved away from the door. Indi noticeably relaxed, sagging against the set of metal shelves the coffee beans were stacked on. She wrapped one arm around herself after a moment, leaving her right hand free to go for her blade. He didn’t think that she’d ever shake that habit.
“Indigo,” he started. She frowned. “Indi,” he tried again, searching her face, wondering whether she would answer the questions he was about to ask her.
“Save your breath, Jer. I––”
Jerry stuck his hand up to stop her from talking. He didn’t want it to be this way. He didn’t want to push her away from him. She glared at him, grinding her molars together like she sometimes did when she was really upset with herself.
“Indi, I don’t know what he did to you out there. He wouldn’t tell me. But there is one thing I do know.”
“What’s that?” she snapped.
“That you wouldn’t fly off the handle like that if it wasn’t something serious.”
“Nothing happened. Rhett accidentally elbowed him when I tried to jerk out of his hand. You know I don’t like strange men touching me.”
He did know that. But he also knew that Rhett seemed to be the exception to that rule, so he knew she was lying. As soon as she’d met Rhett, she looked comfortable around him, like some part of her subconscious knew that he could be trusted. He blew out a frustrated breath. “I know that’s a lie,” he said softly, looking into her eyes. “I know it’s a lie because you said you tried to elbow Rhett, not just get out of his grip before. I also know that it was a lie because your face gave you away when Rhett told me his version of events.”
“Fuck,” she muttered under her breath, looking down at her feet.
“So are you going to tell me what really happened?”
“Probably not,” she replied, still looking down at the thick black laces threaded into her military boots.
“Look, Indi, I know that you need this job. But you do have that money sitting there still. You can have it whenever you want. You know that, don’t you? If you’re finding the job too stressful, you can live off that for a little while.”
“I’ll never take that money,” she snapped, her hand flexing around her upper arm.
“I know it’s your pride that’s stopping you.” Jerry sighed and folded his six-foot frame onto the floor opposite to where she was standing. “Mr. Wright said he would press charges.” She shrugged. “Do you want to tell me what happened?” he asked again.
Indi met his steady gaze and lifted her chin in defiance. “There’s nothing to tell.”
“You know you can tell me anything, right? Did he say something inappropriate to you?”
She shook her head and crossed her arms over her chest. Jerry’s eyes swept the floor in thought. When the idea struck him, it made him feel sick to the stomach. “Did he…did he touch you?” his voice dropped to a hard whisper. Indi tightened her arms across her chest. “That was it, wasn’t it?” Jerry couldn’t believe he’d allowed that to happen to her in his cafe. He’d be the one pressing charges if she confirmed his suspicions. “Indi?”
She shrugged again, refusing to look into his eyes. He’d seen this body language before. She wasn’t going to talk, and there was not a damn thing he could say or do that was going to change her mind.
“Well, if you decide you do want to tell me about it, you know where I am.” He stood up, opened the door and called Rhett over. If Indi wouldn’t talk then he’d get his information from somewhere else. “Indi, can you give us a minute, please?”
“Sure,” she replied. As she went through the door, Indi and Rhett exchanged a strange look, but Jerry ignored it; he was more concerned with getting to the bottom of what had happened.
Rhett’s bulk took up more space in the small room than Jerry thought was possible. He took a step back from him and began pacing. Rhett patiently watched Jerry and his pissed-off attitude wearing a hole in the Linoleum under his feet.
“I want to know what the hell happened out there. I don’t want the edited version. I want to hear it all. I know that you lied to me before. If you don’t tell me what I need to know right now, I get to fire your ass. You got me?” Jerry’s voice ended up in a growl.
Rhett swallowed and nodded. “All right. I’d been keeping an eye on them after I noticed how she reacted to him the first time. When I saw him grab her wrist, I started making my way over to them. She had her knife on his throat when I got there.”
“My God,” he breathed.
“I managed to get her to back down, but just as she was about to leave, the guy mouthed off and she cold-cocked him.”
Jerry’s thoughts were a tangled snarl. It had happened to her again and under his watch, too. He felt physically sick. “Did you see him touch her again at all?” he eventually asked.
Rhett shook his head. “No, but judging by her reaction to him, I’d say that he had.”
Jerry swallowed thickly. “Why did you lie about what happened then?”
“Indi can’t afford to lose her job.”
“But you were willing to risk your own job to protect her.” Statement—not question.
He shrugged. “She needs this more than I do.”
Jerry asked, “Do you care about her that much? You hardly know her.” He was speaking from experience. Indi hadn’t truly opened up to him until she’d lived in the same house as him for two years, and even when she did talk about herself, Jerry could tell she was holding back.
He shrugged his broad shoulders again. “I know her enough. Besides, I can’t stand by and let a woman get manhandled. I did what any man would have done in my situation.”
As far as Jerry was concerned, that earned Rhett some big brownie points in his book. He put his hand out to the guy. “Thanks,” he said. They clapped palms and did the manly chest-to-shoulder hug. “I mean it, Rhett. Thanks. I feel so much better knowing that someone else is looking out for her. I had no idea that was what was going on. I took my eyes off her for a second, just a second.”
He shrugged. “Don’t worry about it.”
Jerry and Rhett left the storeroom in time to start the final clean up. Indi was just closing up the cafe, flipping the sign on the door to “closed”. Jerry studied her face, finding that she had shut down her emotions. She was retreating in on herself so much that Jerry couldn’t tell what she was thinking anymore.
“I’m ready to go when you are, Jer,” Indi said to him
softly fifteen minutes later.
“Okay,” he replied before his phone beeped. He pulled it out and looked at the reminder flashing on the screen.
“Dammit,” he said, putting his phone back in his pocket.
Indi asked, “What is it?”
“I forgot that I had to meet someone over at the apartment in fifteen minutes.” He stared at Indi’s doleful expression. “I’ll call him and tell him that I can’t get there for another half an hour.”
“Wait. Don’t do that. Was this a date?”
Jerry laughed. “No. He’s my squash partner. We had to reschedule a match to tonight.”
“You should go. I can get home by myself for once,” Indi said, shrugging. Jerry shook his head. He had started walking Indi home of an evening ever since a maniac rapist had started terrorising women in Buxton. And there was no way in hell that he’d let her walk home alone tonight.
“Would you like me to walk her home?” Rhett asked Jerry softly.
“Are you sure?”
“It’s no problem at all,” Rhett replied.Jerry gave him a sharp nod. “Thanks. I owe you.”