Hmmm. If the tables were turned and Cole was hanging out with some hot chick all night in his apartment, I’d be pissed. I decide that next time I see him I’ll explain that Ghost and I have a unique friendship and all will be okay.

I hope.

***

Today is dragging so much that I think I might just poke myself in the eye for fun.

Tina won’t be in today because Tatiana has a cold. That sucks balls. My heart aches for my little sweetheart. I hate it when kids get sick, especially young babies because there isn’t a lot you can do to help. Tina feels helpless which means I’m right there with her.

So, today I am boss lady of Safira’s boutique. Luckily, Mimi and Lola are both working today, but it’s just my luck that things aren’t going well.

Firstly, a shipment of clothes due to be on racks today has gone AWOL and, as per usual, the cuntish people at the post office are taking on a not my problem kind of approach. Secondly, I missed my lunch because there were too many people in the store and I couldn’t leave the girls to handle it on their own. Thirdly, every second person is throwing attitude my way, and every time someone speaks to me, my brain translates it to sound like blah, blah, fucking blah.

It’s only a matter of time before I lose my shit and give someone a piece of my mind.

I never said I was a good boss lady.

The crowd dies down and my stomach rumbles. Loudly. Lola looks over at me with wide eyes. “What the heck was that?”

Mimi answers from across the studio, never looking up from her clipboard. “She’s hungry. She didn’t have time to get lunch.”

Lola looks stricken. “What the heck is wrong with you?” she yells and then slaps my shoulder.

Mimi responds, still not looking over, “She’s the boss lady today. She can’t leave if there are more than ten people in the store. She couldn’t go then.” Mimi finally looks at me and smiles. “But she can leave now.”

I smile my response. Lola grabs my purse and pushes me across the studio towards the front door. “Go on! Get!”

I can’t help but laugh. I love these girls. “You guys want anything from Silvio’s?”

At the same time, they both answer, “Cookie!” in a Cookie Monster voice.

Chuckling at their silliness, I take my purse and walk down the street to Silvio’s sub shop. The man makes a sandwich like no one else. He actually cuts the meat right in front of you. The turkey is always fresh and moist. A sub by Silvio is to die for.

Silvio is a sweet, mature Italian man. He’s balding, round, funny and barely speaks passable English. He spots me and pretends to have heart troubles by putting his hands on his chest and stumbling back. He smiles a cheeky smile and greets me with, “diavolo rosso dai capelli.” I’ve since learned this means Red-haired Devil.

And I have to say, I like it.

I smile my most charming smile and ask him, “What do you have fit for a Devil?”

Silvio lifts his head to the ceiling and belly laughs. With dancing eyes he replies, “You no devil. Too sweet for devil. Maybe angel?”

Still smiling, I shake my head forlornly and tell him, “Wishful thinking, Silvio. We both know what I am. I can’t hide it.”

He chuckles through his reply, “Sweet devil, one day you become angel. You see.” He goes about making my regular turkey sub and I look around the store. I do a double take when I see Ghost sitting in the corner booth frowning at his laptop screen. Silvio hands me my sub and two cookies. Without thinking, I go over to Ghost and sit right next to him. He scowls as he turns but as soon as he looks at me, his face softens a little.

A sheepish smile forms on his face. “Sorry. Didn’t see you there.”

Unwrapping my sub, I reply, “No shit, Sherlock. Why so glum? Porn not loading quick enough?”

A look of confusion crosses his face. I nod to his laptop. He smirks and replies, “Sugar, what makes you think I need porn?” He leans back in the booth, places his hands behind his head and looks smug. “Club ladies throw themselves at me all the time.” I roll my eyes and pretend to choke on my sub. Chuckling, he goes back to his laptop, typing furiously. We sit in a comfortable silence and I finish up my sub with a moan. It’s a seriously good sub. If I had a hat, I’d take it off to Silvio.

“I like that,” Ghost murmurs.

Huh?

I open my eyes from my food coma and look right into Ghost’s soft brown eyes. “Like what?”

“When you-” Cutting himself off, he clears his throat and looks back to his laptop. “When women eat.”

Laughter bursts out of me and I utter, “Then you should love me, Ash. There’s nothing better in the world than food. Why do you think I love Tina so much? The girl can bake!”

Still looking at his laptop, Ghost mutters, “The girl can seriously bake.”

My voice colored with humor. I take it one further. “The girl can bake the shit out of a cake.”

Chuckling, Ghost one-ups me. “The girl can ice the fuck out of a cupcake.”

We look at each other smiling like a couple of jerks and laugh. I hold my belly and say, “Oh shit. Tina got served and she doesn’t even know it.”

Ghost’s smile fades and he says deadly serious, “Don’t tell her I was making fun of her. I love those cupcakes.”

The thought of Ghost being scared that Tina would cut him off is hilarious! I laugh again but what Ghost says next wipes any form of mirth off of my face. “So, I heard moaning and banging on the walls last night. I take it your date went well.” He doesn’t even look at me, just types away on his laptop.

Unsure whether to tell him to mind his own fucking business or to defend myself, I decide being aloof is best. “Yeah, I guess you could say it went well.”

Watching him closely, I see what seems to be anger cross his face, but he covers it quickly. “So, I guess I should get used to that, huh? Him spending the night?”

Hold the fuck up. Say what now?

Now I’m pissed. I reply heatedly, “First things first, dickwad, he didn’t spend the night. Secondly, whatever sexcapades I plan to take on are none of your fucking business. Thirdly, I wasn’t going to see him tonight so we could watch the baking show together, but now you can eat a dick.” I finish on a nod, and move to stand but he catches my hand and pulls me back into the booth to sit.

He looks confused as he says, “Hey, now. I didn’t mean to sound rude. I was just making conversation.”

Scoffing, I reply, “Yeah, right. You’re acting like I owe you an explanation or some shit, Ash.”

Frowning, he murmurs, “You’re right. Sorry, pretty girl. It won’t happen again.”

I love when he calls me pretty girl. The rat bastard.

I look into his eyes. He looks upset at himself and genuinely sorry. I sigh and roll my eyes heavenward. “Okay. Good.”

Warmth on my hand draws my gaze. I haven’t even realized he’s still holding my hand from when he pulled me back into the booth. His thumb softly rubs the back of my hand. When he sees me look down, he drops my hand like it’s hot and clears his throat. “So, we still watching TV tonight or did I just make things weird?”

Try as I might, I can’t stop the grin that spreads across my face. “You are weird, Ash. A fucking weirdo. But yes, we’re still on tonight.”

My grin transfers to his face. “Okay. See you later on.” Just as I slide out of the booth he says quietly, “Sorry about the weird thing.” He looks uncomfortable, almost embarrassed, as he continues, “I don’t really know how else to be.”

My heart breaks for him. I want him to explain why he is the way he is, but even I know it’s too early in our friendship to ask him to explain himself. Suddenly, I feel protective of him. I look him right in the eyes and respond firmly, “I love that you’re weird. It makes you unique. I’ve never met anyone like you before, and I’m proud to have you as my friend, Ash.”

Leaving him in shock, I turn on my heel and head back to work, face flushing as red as a neon sign.

***

I watch her ass sway as she strides away. Because she doesn’t walk ever, it’s not that simple with Nat.

She strides. She creeps. She stalks. She glides.

She’s like a fucking animal. An animal I want to tame. Every move she makes is calculated.

She’s a walking wet dream. Sassy as hell.

Have I seen her trip or be clumsy? Hell yes. And I laughed my ass off. Not that I’d ever tell her that. She’d kick my ass. I watch Safira’s over the CCTV most of the day. Even though I’m meant to be watching the store, I spend most of the time watching Nat.

What she said just a minute ago lingers. “I’m proud to have you as my friend, Ash.”

I don’t hear that much. Proud. That word doesn’t usually get associated with me. It just doesn’t fit. Nik’s dad, Ilia, was the first person who ever told me he was proud of me. Nat is the second. In all my life.

I’d love to say it didn’t affect me, but fuck, I’m puffing out my chest like a bullfrog. If I were to walk right now, I know it’d be a strut.

She turned down a date tonight with the douchebag so we could watch TV together. I don’t know what to make of that. Maybe she was lying about how last night went to save face.

You heard the moaning and groaning yourself. You saying she faked that?

My lip curls. Thinking of Nat fucking some other guy makes me wanna go apeshit. I fucking hate this guy. I know I don’t know him, but something about him is off and I’m going to figure it out.

Shady recognizes shady. And I’m shady as fuck.

At least you’re the one spending the evening with her.

Smirking, I go back to my laptop and continue working. My smirk vanishes when I realize she’s probably going to see him again tomorrow night. I need to get her out of my head.

Time to call Tasha.

***

Placing the tub of peanut buttercup ice-cream, spoons and sodas on the coffee table, I await my guest. I check the clock. 8:27pm. He’ll be here soon.

I’ve showered and dressed in my regular outfit of pajamas and a tank top. While I wait, I open a soda and turn on the TV. I flick through but noise close to the front door draws my attention. I get up and walk closer to it. The muffled noise comes from Ghost’s apartment.

Using the TV remote, I turn the volume down and creep over there. I know it’s wrong but I’m curious.

“See, I told you I could be quiet.” That coming from a woman.

Ghost chuckles then replies, “Yeah. Thanks for coming over, Tasha.”

My stomach dips and my face heats.

Tasha. The woman from that first night.

I hear her smile through her speech. “Anytime. I was wondering if you’d ever call again after last time. I know it was awkward for you.” I want to punch that smile off her pretty face.

Awkward for him? What about me?

He responds, “Nah, that was nothing. Nat and I are friends. It’s all good.”

Friends.

That we are.

Then why are you getting pissed about this?

Yeah. So, he’s fucking someone. Good for him.

My face falls. I think I’m going to be sick.

They say their goodbyes and I rush over to the sofa and park my butt with a plop. I turn up the volume on the TV and sip casually on my soda. The patio door slides open ten minutes later and Ghost walks in wearing his blue pajama pants and a white tee. His hair’s wet from the after-sex shower he just had. He focuses on my face then frowns. “Everything okay?”

Not trusting myself to speak, I just nod then resume watching TV.

He sits next to me and places his cold hand on my warm forehead. Concern flashes across his face and he mutters, “You’re burning up, babe.”

I remove his hands from my face and explain quietly, “No. I’m not getting sick. I just get this way sometimes. Mostly, when I’m angry or upset.”

Ghost’s body tightens like a bow. “If that asshole said something to you….” He looks accusingly at me. “What the fuck, Nat? I thought friends talk about this shit.”

I lie through an easy smile, “No. It’s not that. I just- I- I miss my sisters. That’s all.”

I look up into his face. He doesn’t look convinced, but lets it go with an equally fake smile.

Who are we trying to fool? This’ll never work out.

We were doomed before we even began.

Chapter Six

When good guys go bad

Last night with Nat was awkward as hell. It was weird because for the first time ever there was tension in the room with us while we watched TV, and I swear she smelt sex on me.

I called Tasha yesterday afternoon and asked her if she would come by. I needed to give my never-ending erection a break, and the only way I could think of was finding a release. As usual, she was more than happy to oblige.

So, sue me. I have needs as much as the next guy.

The funny thing was that even though my body was into it, my brain wasn’t. Even though it was Tasha sucking my cock, I imagined it was Nat. Then having to spend the evening with her, all sorts of pissy girl emotions went through me. I felt guilty, like I’d done something wrong. I kept reminding myself that Nat was dating a fucking douchebag named Cole, and they’d got it on the day before, so why the fuck couldn’t I?

“What the hell, man? You were pretty far away.” Max breaks my thoughts.

I sigh and lean back in my chair. “Hey, bro. What’s up?”

Max smirks his trademark smirk and I can’t help but grin right back. Something’s up.

He starts, “Well, I got a date on Thursday night. Was kinda hoping you’d watch Ceecee for me.”

My face falls.

Well, shit.

Incredulously, I choke out, “Me? I was your best fucking option?”

Max winces but the truth comes out. “Everyone else is busy, man. And this chick…” He puts on his best I’m in love face. “Oh, this chick.”

***

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