Mac shifted his weight to the other foot, the cold wind cutting through the jacket he was huddled under. Across the street from where he stood draped in the shadows of the alley, a single store had a light shining through the clear glass of the front window.
The building didn’t look like much. Red brick going up two storeys. A round window at the top, too high to let him see anything. And a stained glass door through which a shadow could be seen moving around.
His mark. At least, the one he’d been assigned by Derrick.
Mac ground his teeth at the thought of the other man. So he’d gotten in a little over his head. So he owed Derrick more than he could feasibly pay back. Did that mean he had to follow his every whim?
Hands shaking, Mac pulled out the gun Derrick had forced on him earlier that evening. The weight of it felt foreign in his hand, and if it were up to him, it would have found its new home at the bottom of one of the lakes in town. But that wasn’t why he shook. He couldn’t even blame the cold on that.
That shake was why he still stood there in the dark, waiting. It was why he followed Derrick’s every whim.
The shadow shifted again, and Mac shrank further into the alley as the door opened, a lone figure standing framed in the door before the light turned off.
Darting across the street, he lifted the gun. Shoving the muzzle of the it into the figure’s back, Mac leaned in close.
“Go back inside,” he hissed in their ear.
The figure, frozen in front of him, didn’t move for a moment.
“Did you hear what I said?”
The figure moved, and for the first time Mac realized it was a woman. He could see her soft features as she turned to try and look at him, which only made him growl at her.
“Don’t look at me! Get back inside!”
Above them a wooden sign swung slightly in the wind. Dora’s Books. A book store? Why the hell had Derrick sent him there?
Finally, the woman in front of him moved back into the building, giving Mac the opportunity to follow her in.
Stepping through the door was an instant relief from the wind, and Mac let out a soft sigh as heat started to penetrate his skin again. Though it did nothing to calm the nerves that ran under his skin. With his free hand, he rubbed at his other arm, wishing this was all over. Wished Derrick would have just given him what he wanted.
“If you need something to eat, I don’t have anything here,” the woman said in front of him.
Mac pressed the gun harder into her back. “Empty your register.”
She stood frozen and he leaned in closer.
“Do you not understand English?”
“The register is empty,” came her reply. He frowned at her tone, as if she was amused by him.
Maybe she should be. Of course the register was empty. It was the end of the day. She would have already taken out the deposit. What the hell was he going to do? Derrick was expecting money that night. If he showed up with nothing in hand, he was going to get killed. The itching in his arms got all the worse, and his desperate eyes swung around the room, looking for anything that might calm the storm that was Derrick’s temper.
“What are those?” He motioned with the gun toward the back of the store. From where they stood he could just make out what looked like locked display cases with books inside. He didn’t know why anyone would want to lock those up, but he couldn’t walk away empty handed.
“If they were just books you wouldn’t have them displayed like that.”
She was silent, and Mac prodded her forward with the gun. Together they walked to the counter, and Mac leaned over, squinting at the display. Yep, books. What the hell could possibly be special about books? Hell, he couldn’t even read half of the titles. What language was that?
“You’re going to have to…”
Mac cut off as the gun was ripped from his hand, and he spun to find the woman who had just been his captive with the gun pointed at him. In an instant, his hands were in the air, and he opened his mouth.
Unfortunately, he didn’t get to say the jumble of words that were about to pour from his mouth. The woman’s hand whipped out, the butt of his own gun catching him in the temple.
He didn’t have time to so much as curse himself for getting distracted before the dark claimed him.
The smell of antiseptic pulled him from the darkness. His eyes fluttered open, and he moaned as the light of the room shone in his eyes for the first time.
His head pounded, and he shifted to try and block out the light.
Which was when he realized his hand was cuffed to the bed.
“I didn’t call the cops, but I did take precautions,” a voice said to his right.
He winced at the sound. If there was any way to tell her about the shooting pains in his head without talking, he would have. Instead he just mumbled at her.
She let out a sigh, and the sound of clothes rustling told him she was moving. Then the light over his head went off, and he managed to crack an eye open.
Standing over him was the woman he’d tried to rob. What the hell?
“You tried to take my books,” she said, her arms crossed in front of her. A curtain of dark hair hung down her back, and her black eyes bore into him. In that moment he was certain she was a witch and was reading his mind right then and there.
“Wha….” was all he managed to get out.
She raised a brow at him. “You do remember that, don’t you? Holding a gun on me? Telling me I was going to have to give you my books?”
Actually, he was pretty sure she’d hit him before he’d managed to ask her for her books. But he wasn’t going to argue with the lady who had apparently cuffed him to the bed. Instead, he just stared at her, waiting for her to tell him what was going on.
“Like I said, I didn’t call the cops.”
She shook her head, turning away from him. “Here’s what I don’t understand. Why my store? A used book store is where you thought all the cash was going to be?”
“You were the only one open?” He hadn’t meant to phrase it as a question, and she turned on him, her eyes holding far too much knowledge.
“Nope. Try again.”
He shut his eyes, wishing that act alone would make the woman disappear. “Who the hell are you?”
“You tell me. From what I can figure, the only reason to come after my store is because you were targeting me.”
Mac let out a sigh, wishing he could drape an arm across his eyes and pretend none of this had ever happened. Why the hell had he let Derrick talk him into this? And why hadn’t she called the cops on him?
“Unless someone put you up to it.”
He cracked an eye to stare at her. He certainly hadn’t expected her to figure it out. “So what if someone did.”
She sat back in the chair next to the bed, pulling it closer so she look him in the eye. “Then you’re going to tell me who.”
Mac snorted, looking away from her. “That’s not going to happen.”
“I could still call the cops.”
“Go ahead,” Mac told her. “Better than snitching.” Even a witch was better than Derrick at his worse. Mac had seen his temper before, and he didn’t want to stand in its path. Even if the alternative was a crazy witch.
“I’m not a cop. It’s not snitching if I’m not a cop.”
“I’m not telling you. You can forget it.”
She was silent for so long, he almost thought she might have left. But when he looked, she was still sitting there, staring at him.
“I’ll give you a job.”
Mac’s mouth fell open. “What?”
“If you tell me who it was, I’ll give you a job. At my store. It’s not much, just a shelf stocker. But it’s something, right? And it would be good for you.”
“You’re offering me a job?”
She stood and started pacing the room. “Well, not the way you are now. I don’t need a drug addict in my store.”
“Don’t try and deny it. I saw the tracks.”
For the millionth time since he’d woken up, Mac wished his hands were free so he could cover his arms. Damn it, why did he even care what she thought? He didn’t. He didn’t give a damn what she thought of him. This was his life; he could do whatever the hell he wanted.
“What makes you think I want a job?”
“Because I don’t think you wanted to be there today.”
“Alright, I’ll make it better. I’ll get you into a rehab centre.”
“Rehab?” Mac shook his head. “Look, lady, I don’t know who you are or why you care, but…”
Mac froze, his eyes locked on hers. But she just stared right back at him. “What?”
“I’m Jayne. Jayne Pheare.”
He shook his head, then immediately regretted it when it began to swim and the pain intensified. “I don’t actually care who you are. I’m just trying to tell you that I’m not going to just…”
“And I’ll take care of the guy who made you do it.”
Now Mac shut his mouth, his eyes cautious as he watched her.
“You don’t believe me?” Jayne asked.
Strangely, that wasn’t the case at all. He had no idea who this Jayne was, or why Derrick had chosen her place to send Mac, but right at that moment he didn’t care. He didn’t want anything to do with it. Because he believed her when she said she would take care of him.
She waved a hand in her face, as if to send his eminent denial away. “You’re going to do this.”
“You are. Because you want a second chance.”
Mac snorted again and looked away from her. Second chance. He wished. He’d had a second chance already. And a third. And a fourth. It didn’t matter how many chances he got, he just messed it up every time. She wasn’t going to dangle that hope in his face again.
“And because you know that if I do this for you, if I get you clean, I’ll kill you if you ever go back to this life.”
A shiver ran down his spine at her words, and he opened his mouth to tell her he wasn’t going to do it.
“Alright.” The word was out before he could stop himself, and when he glanced back at her, she was smiling.
“Perfect. Now then, about the person who sent you after me…”
Mac let out a silent groan. He didn’t know what he’d just gotten himself into, but he doubted it was going to turn out well. It never did for him.