Read an Excerpt
A Moment of Weakness
A Boston Alibi Novel
By Brooklyn Skye, Heather Howland
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2015 Brooklyn Skye
All rights reserved.
Micah Crane's fist collided with the guy's face for what he hoped was the last time. He'd known the shithead would fight back — they always did — but this guy was huge, at least two-seventy-five to Micah's two-twenty.
"Who are you with again?" the guy gasped, wiping the bead of blood from his split lip.
Micah laughed, the sound echoing down the length of the dark alley. "You have debts with more than one associate?" He shook out his hand, the deep ache in his knuckles dulling. "Either you're really fucking stupid or a walking death wish." Or both. And Micah didn't care. While roughing guys up wasn't exactly a chosen profession, the guys he was paid to "handle" for Russo were all hoods who needed to have the shit beat out of them anyway.
The guy sat up and coughed. "I —"
"Shut your mouth," he said with a raise of his hand. Don't ask, don't tell. A strict policy he held when dealing with these douchebags. Micah didn't want to know what they owed, or why. It made him feel like less of an asshole when going home to his daughter every night.
Eyes not leaving the guy, he bent to retrieve his bat, thankful he hadn't had to use it. Fists first, but in this business, protection was necessary.
"Settle up with Russo by the end of tomorrow," he said, back-stepping toward the mouth of the alley. "Or you can deal with the guy who comes after me. And he likes to enter his get-togethers carrying a shovel, if you know what I mean."
It was only a short drive to the Central Burying Ground but plenty of time for Micah's heart to jump into overtime. Meeting with Russo was his least favorite part of the job, but the associate for the well-known organized crime family insisted on doing things face to face. And one thing his father had taught him ... Do what they say, stay on their side, and all will be well in your wallet.
He chuckled to himself. Yeah, the pay was damn good all right. Enough to cover what The Alibi — the bar he co-owned with his best friend — didn't. Shaelynn deserved the best school in Boston, especially now that she was entering first grade.
He parked in the shadows and stole past the eerie span of rickety gravesites — artists, poets, composers ... people who'd made a difference, been important; people who were nothing like him — and stopped at the plaque of The Great Elm. Uneven and crumbling at the edges, the marker sat where a giant tree, once a point of fortification and used in hangings, had stood. Fitting, he couldn't help but think every time he set foot near it.
Russo emerged from the surrounding trees, his arms held wide. "How long did it take this time? Wait, let me guess. Five hits? Six?" He smiled, his teeth gleaming in the moonlight. "Asshole was huge, huh?"
Huge enough to ask for a heftier fee, yes, but he wouldn't dare. He nodded to Russo with his chin. "Can we make this quick? I've got to get back to work." Rather, back to Shaelynn. But he'd never talk to this man — or any of the associates — about his daughter. Regardless, Russo was a member of the most powerful crime family in the state. Of course he knew about her. Micah had seen the man in his bar a few times. Watched him order one drink, make eye contact with him, and then leave with a sleazy grin on his even sleazier mouth. An acknowledgement on Russo's part that he could hold everything Micah had over his head if Micah didn't produce.
He'd never let this man touch his daughter.
Russo exposed a wad of bills from his jacket pocket and handed it to Micah. "When can I expect my money?"
"He'll pay by the end of tomorrow." And he knew the thug in the alley would. They always did after a visit from him. It was why he'd had a continuous stream of jobs from Anthony Russo, whether he wanted them or not.
After a quick stop at the gas station to clean up, Micah entered The Alibi. A few of his regulars sat along the bar, chatting and guffawing with the bar's longtime bartender Trey — a thirty-something ginger with a laugh that could draw in the ladies. A pair of younger-looking guys — closer to his little sister's age than his — stood belly up to the bar, a beer in each of their hands. Micah had never seen them before.
No ladies tonight either, he noticed on his way to the back room he and Ryan used as their office. With the dilapidated sign hanging out front and sketchy projects surrounding their neighborhood block, it took a severe case of martini goggles for Boston's women to make their way into his small, ramshackle bar, which usually didn't happen until well past midnight.
In his office, he tucked the wad of cash from Russo into the safe hidden in the file cabinet and started to work on payroll. The bar didn't revenue enough to pay for a bookkeeper, and this was his least favorite part of the job. Sitting behind a desk had never been his thing. Maybe if it was, Shae would have a better life.
At the thought of his daughter, the back door swung open and she skipped in and jumped onto his lap. "Daddy!" Six years old and still wanting to sit on his lap — he hoped she'd never stop.
Kissing her temple, he ran his hand down her wavy blonde hair. "Hi, princess. How was your day?"
"The best! Uncle Ryan took me to get ice cream. For dinner! Chocolate with Oreos."
"Your favorite," Micah said to her with a discreet what-the-fuck glance at his partner.
Ryan shrugged and jerked the black beanie off his head, his normally slicked-back hair looking more like a dirty mop. "You told me to keep her happy."
He did. He also hadn't had a choice when Russo texted him last minute with an assignment.
"We went to watch chickens wrestle too," Shae said with a grin, stealing his pen to draw a heart on the back of his hand. "I didn't like that, though. They were being mean to each other."
Micah scowled at Ryan. "You took her to a cockfight? How is that appropriate for a six-year-old?"
"Hey," Ryan spouted, roughly combing his fingers through his thick beard, "You weren't the only one who had sh — I mean crap to get done. Jackson needed to meet about the Bud account. I had no choice."
Shae leaned in and, with a giggle, whispered into Micah's ear, "Shit, Daddy. He was going to say 'shit'."
"I know, baby girl." Micah nuzzled her close. Jesus, his little girl wasn't a baby he could entertain in an Exersaucer in the back room anymore. Every day, she was growing more perceptive, more aware of the world and the life he'd spent building for her. A life, he thought as he scanned the dingy room, that wasn't fit for the princess she was. He kissed her head again. "But you're better than crazy Uncle Ryan, so I don't want you saying it."
The words came out, but the conviction in them was missing. Ryan glanced at him, his eyes seeming to ask exactly what Micah was thinking. Would Shae really grow up to be better than them if he continued to drag her to The Alibi? Drag her into a life no better than the one he was raised in?CHAPTER 2
Laurel Harris's eyes flickered back and forth between the red-haired director sitting across the desk from her and the notes she scrawled every time Laurel answered one of her questions.
What is your highest level of education completed?
Do you have your teaching certification?
All applicants require a background check. Would this be a problem?
Being the city's most prestigious daycare, Ivy League Childcare Center was more ostentatious than the others she'd interviewed at, looking more like a fancy hotel than a place for kids. No matter. It was a job — something she desperately needed.
Laurel toyed with the scratchy material of her skirt and smiled. These questions she'd answered on the application, and if the woman stuck to them, she'd have no trouble finishing out this interview.
A strand of hair drifted loose from the woman's bun and stuck to her lips as she tilted her head and asked, "How many years of experience do you have teaching children?"
Laurel shifted her shoulders back. "I don't have any years teaching yet. I grew up babysitting all the kids in my neighborhood and helping my parents, who are both teachers, in their classrooms. I've already been hired with the school district for the fall, so I'm really just looking for something to keep me busy throughout the summer."
Or to pay her rent check.
Eat three meals a day like normal people who have jobs.
Save for school supplies for her new classroom.
She pinched her lips into a smile.
"Just the summer?" the woman asked, stilling her pen along the paper. Beneath the desk, the woman's legs uncrossed, and something about that movement sent Laurel's heart skittering up toward her necklace. Would the little arrow charm start to bounce? Would the woman see it?
The director set the pen down. "Here at Ivy League, we place a high amount of importance on keeping our center family oriented. In doing so, we create bonds with children and parents that last long past when they leave our program. Part of that process is finding teachers who desire long-term employment, not just a summer job." She stood. "Thank you for your time." Her hand shot out, opened and ready to shake.
Wait. She was ending the interview already?
Laurel pried herself from the chair, the words way to ruin the interview floating through her head.
"We'll be in touch with you once we make our decision," the woman added as she escorted Laurel to the door then shut it behind her. Laurel had been on enough interviews to know that the blunt tone of the woman's voice meant she wouldn't be calling.
She closed her eyes and stole a breath. Ivy League was the last on her very short list of hiring daycares. The breath released. How would she pay her rent through the summer?
Driving home, Laurel scanned the storefronts — coffee shops, clothing boutiques, jewelry, shoes ... Maybe she'd apply at some of those. Or all of them. Yes, definitely all of them.
A sudden burst of energy struck her as she parked in front of the old house she'd been renting a room from, a mental list of businesses she'd submit applications to running through her head. She didn't have a choice. Her parents had some money but were on tight budgets of their own, which didn't allow enough to loan her for her summer rent.
Up the cracked walkway, her landlord Ms. Hastings emerged from the front door. The woman looked as old as the house, just as weathered too. The type that knew age was stealing her brain and didn't like it one bit. Laurel waved with a forced smile then ducked her head, praying there'd be no mention of the two-day-late rent notice currently sitting on her kitchen counter. She only had half the amount so far.
Ms. Hastings knitted her brows together in a your rent is due, young lady scolding sort of look but thankfully didn't say it.
Inside her tiny room, she settled at the makeshift desk in front of her computer, ready to spend the rest of the evening with a deluge of online applications. She could do this.
She had to do this.
A few hours later, a yellow, rubber ... what would I even call that? appeared in front of her face.
"It's called The Tickler," her best friend April supplied, jiggling the ... thing. It looked like a colorful pig's tail with a nub on each end.
"A what?" Laurel rolled back her shoulders and creaked her neck to the side. How many applications had she just filled out?
Her roommate fingernailed a tiny switch, and it started vibrating.
"Oh my god," Laurel said, pushing it away. "Why are you showing this to me? I don't need to know what you do while I'm sleeping." She pointed to the wall where a few of her pictures hung. "Do you know how thin this house's walls are?" It had been a joke when the two of them had rented side-by-side rooms from Ms. Hastings. A snicker and smirk from April, knowing the chances of hearing Laurel with a man was slim.
"It's not for me," April said. "I got it for you. You know, since you don't ever let a man do the job for you." She held up the contraption. "The package says it's a rabbit vibe, a clitoral massager, a cock ring, and a G-spot stimulator all in one." Her bright red lips stretched into a smile as she plopped it into Laurel's lap, still pulsating. "You can thank me later."
"I'll thank you never. I'm not using that." Sure, her roommate was right — she didn't bring men home. Nor did she go home with them. One night of pleasure then a week of hoping he would call wasn't all that appealing now that she'd graduated college and was trying to make something of herself.
April leaned in, eyeing the classifieds list on the computer. "How'd the interview go?"
"They were looking for long-term employees, not people only for the summer." She sat back in her chair and sighed. "Finding a summer job has been way harder than I expected."
April perched at the edge of the desk and tapped her long acrylic fingernails against it, screwing up her face at the same time. "Kids ... I can't believe you want to voluntarily insert yourself into a room of them."
Laurel shrugged. "What could be scarier than kids?"
"Slimy, snotty kids."
They both laughed. Okay, maybe she was right there. But both her parents were elementary school teachers, and ever since first grade, when her teacher told her to walk around the classroom and show every student how awful her work was, Laurel had known becoming a teacher who didn't create a negative environment for kids was what she wanted to do. She'd heard stories from her parents about the nation being so focused on test results and high scores that true teaching was very quickly being replaced with teaching to the test. Pressure like that was sure to increase stress among teachers, and therefore students, and Laurel knew deep in her heart that situations like that would only leave kids with a bitter taste in their mouths regarding school. Then what kind of adults would they grow into? What kind of generation would follow hers?
"I have an idea," April said, sitting taller. Her thin, floral blouse stretched against her bony shoulders. "Or a temporary one that might get you through the next few months. My big brother has a daughter and could really use some help with her. Why don't I talk to him? He could probably take you on for the summer."
Already, Laurel was shaking her head. "I'm looking for an actual job, Ape, not a babysitting gig. We're not seventeen."
"She needs a role model too."
"So why don't you do it? You are her aunt."
"Uh, no," April said, her nose scrunched. "The girl is cute, and I love her to death, but there's no way I could spend my afternoons with peanut butter and washable markers." She gave Laurel a Have you seen me? kind of look, and Laurel laughed. Yeah, the image of her over-the-top, skincare-selling friend acting motherly was amusing. Then April sprang to her feet and ran out of the room, heels tapping along the wooden hallway to her room. Over her shoulder, she sang out, "I'm calling him!"
The Alibi. Was her best friend crazy? Meeting for a job interview at a bar? And a decrepit one at that?
Laurel straightened her skirt, adjusted the silky white blouse she'd borrowed from April, and yanked open the bar's bright-orange door. Hot, alcohol-stenched air burned her nose as she stepped across the grime-encrusted floor to the bar extended along the back wall.
"What can I get you?" the bartender said, at the same time dunking a pint glass into a vat of soapy water.
"Actually ..." Laurel cleared her throat and said, "I have a meeting with one of the owners. Micah Crane? His sister arranged for me to meet him here."
The bartender smiled, the blizzard of freckles on his nose scrunching into a solid plane. "He had to run a quick errand. He'll be back in a minute." Then he pointed to a barstool. "Have a seat, and I'll get you something to drink. What'll it be?"
She glanced around the empty bar and then to her watch. Four o'clock. Certainly too early for a drink. Especially on this side of town, where she'd likely have to utilize her pepper spray once the sun went down. "A Shirley Temple, please." She said it with a smile, hoping he wouldn't see the way her body was strung tight. Sheesh, why was she so nervous? She didn't even want this job — was only there to meet Micah because she hadn't heard a single word from any of the businesses she'd applied to, and over the last two days, Ms. Hastings's stern looks had morphed into full-on scowls. But she needed money and was willing to take whatever work she could find.
Excerpted from A Moment of Weakness by Brooklyn Skye, Heather Howland. Copyright © 2015 Brooklyn Skye. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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