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Hard to Forget
By Bella Jewel
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Bella Jewel
All rights reserved.
I plod next door into my Aunty Bett and my Uncle George's apartment to borrow their carton of milk. I'm sure they adore having me live next door, especially when I continually steal all their food. I've lived next door to them since I was nineteen. They own the apartment block, living in the biggest one themselves. When I turned eighteen they told me if I got a job, they would rent one out to me.
I've been in that one for nearly ten years now.
I was raised by Aunt Bett and Uncle George when I lost my mother and father at the young age of five. They died in a car accident and Aunt Bett and Uncle George stepped forward and took me on. They were close with my parents, Uncle George and my dad were brothers. They became like my own parents and helped me through some dark times.
They have one child, Jed, who is only a year older than me. He's my best friend and has been since the first day I was welcomed into their home. He used to climb into the bed with me when I was crying at night and hold my hand until I stopped. He's like my own brother and I adore him. Though there are certainly times I'm sure he doesn't adore me. I drive him a little crazy.
I slip into Aunt Bett and Uncle George's apartment like the stealthy little crime fighter I am. I tiptoe over to their fridge and open it, pulling out the carton of milk. My clothes are still damp from my run, but I need a cup of coffee before a shower. It's what motivates me the entire time I run.
"I know you're not poor, Laney."
I squeal and spin around to see Uncle George sitting at the table in the dark, coffee in his hands.
"Uncle George," I cry. "Why are you sitting in the dark like a creeper?"
He chuckles. "Why are you sneaking into my house like a creeper?"
I grin and wave the milk carton. "I needed milk."
"You can't afford your own?"
I pout. "Well sure, but yours tastes better."
He snorts. "I wouldn't know. Maybe if you went to the store every now and then, I might be able to come and try some of yours."
"Good point," I say, waving the carton again. "Okay, I'm going to just borrow a splash and bring it back."
He grunts as if he knows I'm not going to bring it back. I smile and walk over, pressing a kiss to his forehead. "You know I love you, Uncle George. You'd be lost without me."
I reach the door before I hear him grumble, "How can I miss you if you won't go away?"
I smile all the way back to my apartment.
* * *
"You stole our milk again!"
The sound that fills my apartment comes from Jed and his loud, booming voice. I smile as I pull on my boots. Jed appears in my bedroom doorway a second later, glowering at me. Jed is the exact replica of George, with his raven black hair that falls messily over his brown eyes. His skin is olive and he's tall and lean. He's an athlete, and he runs for a living, and the look suits him.
"Morning, Jeddy," I croon, zipping my boot.
"Don't call me Jeddy, and give me back my milk. I can't eat my damned Lucky Charms without any milk."
"How old are you?"
He narrows his eyes.
"Why do you still eat Lucky Charms?" I continue.
"Because they're magically delicious."
I laugh. "I'll pretend I never heard you say that. Besides, I thought you were all healthy eating?"
"I am," he grunts. "But breakfast is my treat. Every morning. Don't judge me, just give me the milk."
"Can't," I say, standing and stomping my feet farther into my boots. "I used it all."
"Jesus, Laney, you're such a little thief."
I waggle a finger at him. "It wasn't stealing; it was borrowing."
He picks my half-empty coffee cup off the counter. "Then I'm borrowing your coffee." He lifts it to his mouth and drains the cup.
After he's finished, I say, "Joke's on you because I just hocked a big loogie in that cup."
He looks equal parts skeptical and disgusted.
I burst into laughter.
"I'm going to work. Later, handsome."
"You wouldn't really do that ... would you?" he mutters as I walk out the door on my way to work.
Maybe today I'll be given a case of my own.
Just maybe.CHAPTER 2
The office of Thorpe Security is located downtown. It takes me about twenty minutes through traffic to get to work. The building is actually quite massive and well established, the best security in the area. We've always got jobs, and my boss, Nahko or Nak for short, is forever scheduling in advance. He has a good reputation for his business and he prides himself on keeping it that way.
I park my black pickup in a free space and climb out, rushing toward the elevator. I get in and head to the third floor, which is where our offices are located. As I move up, I turn and check out my reflection in the mirror.
These jeans I'm wearing accentuate my long legs, and the boots I've paired them with make me look taller than I already am. I'm not chunky tall, or slim tall, I'm a little of both. I suppose you could call me athletically curvy. I have rounded hips, not too much but enough that men stop and stare. My legs are lean and my waist is narrow. I'm busty, with good-sized breasts, so they kind of even me out a little. My shoulders are quite narrow, which is odd for my size. Most women my size are broad shouldered. I guess I got lucky.
My hair, which is a natural platinum blond, flows down past my shoulders and halfway down my back. It has a natural curl and can be painstakingly unruly. My eyes are an odd shade of green because they have a yellow swirl ring around the middle. I can't really call them hazel, nor can I say they're just plain green.
The ding of the elevator has me turning and facing the doors. They slide open and I step out into the vast space. I'm greeted every day with black-and-white-checked tiles spreading out over a massive lobby. There's a huge light wood reception desk sitting beneath a sign spelling out the company name. A gorgeous redhead sits behind the counter — her name is Brandy.
I walk towards her, flashing a smile as I take a left towards the line of offices. If our jobs were purely about protecting someone and never filing paperwork, we'd never need an office, but sadly when we're not protecting, we're here. Mine is the second on the left, I'm right next to Kyle and directly across from Nahko. The other bodyguards in our team take up the rest — in total there's twenty-two of us. It seems like a lot, but it isn't. Not when crime is on the rise and more and more people need assistance.
"Morning, Laney," Duke calls from his office.
I look over at the well-built, tall black man and smile. Duke was one of the first to believe I had what it took to be a bodyguard. The rest took a lot more convincing.
"Morning, Duke," I call back. "How are you?"
"Busy, girl. Nak is waiting for you downstairs."
I walk into my office, dump my things and then walk back out to the elevator that takes me down to the training center on the first floor. It's a massive open area that we train in at least four times a week. It's not just endurance training, but martial arts and self-defense.
I enter the space, with its polished wooden floors and obstacle courses as far as the eye can see. My eyes go to Nak and Kyle, who are on the big ropes hanging from the ceiling, twisting their big bodies around and around, as if they weigh nothing. The two are in so much competition it's just a big old bundle of male testosterone in here.
"Keep at it, boys," I call. "Kyle, if you try any harder you're going to bust a valve."
"Fuck you, Laney," he barks, his massive muscles flexing as he jerks his body up the ropes.
"Morning, boss," I yell at Nahko.
"Laney," he gasps through his pulling.
I stare at him. My boss is a powerful man, both in looks and strength. I guess he has to be to make the right impression on new clients. He can't be fat and bald, sitting at his desk. He needs to be able to show the true power behind his team of men by being able to do what they do. He's Native American and can shrivel you with one angry stare when he's in a mood.
His eyes are dark brown, but they pretty much look black. His hair, which he keeps long, is always braided down his back. He stands at over six feet and is built like a bear. He doesn't have a single tattoo on his body, but he doesn't need them. My boss is bad ass. He also won't let me on a case until I take either him or Kyle down.
It's not that he doesn't believe I can do it, but it's just a ritual everyone has to go through before being given a massive case. I guess in Nak's mind he believes if we have the strength, skill and determination to take him down, then we're going to do the same with every problem we encounter. Everyone else had to do it, so I suppose it's only fair I do, too.
"I'm up for the challenge of taking you down while you're weak and fragile, Nak," I call.
Nak makes it to the top of the rope and then lets go, hitting the floor on both of his feet. Of course, he made it look as graceful as a cat. I take it back; Nahko is never fragile and weak. His eyes flash as he grins, big and broad, showing beautiful white teeth beneath his stunning bronze skin.
"That a challenge?"
I swallow as he prowls towards me. I straighten my shoulders when he stops, staring down at me, sweat trickling down his forehead, muscles bulging. Jesus, this man is terrifying. No wonder his team is the best. "I think I sprained my ankle," I squeak.
Nak's grin gets bigger. "That'll just mean you have to try harder. Let's go."
"Can't it be Kyle?" I joke. "He's much more fragile and weak."
Kyle grunts from the ropes and I flash him a shit-eating grin before following Nak to the training pads. The big man turns to me, arms spread out wide, and says, "Well then, take me down."
I snort, crossing my arms. "Because all criminals just stand there with their arms out, asking to be tackled to the ground."
"You want me to challenge you?" He winks. "Very well."
Then he lunges at me. I sidestep quickly and spin around just in time to miss his fist flying at my head. I drop to the ground and ram my head into his belly, wrapping my arms around his powerful form and pushing him back a few steps. He lets out a scratchy laugh before leaning down and wrapping his arms around my body, flipping me so I land on my back, staring up at him.
"That was unfair," I grunt.
"On your feet, try again. If you want this, Laney, you have to work hard for it."
I get to my feet and yell, "I do work hard. Harder than these other naturally built, naturally muscled, naturally able to take down a criminal, men! I don't have the muscle you guys do, so I work a whole lot harder than them."
"I don't doubt it," he says, jumping from one foot to the other. "But you still need to prove to me that you can do it."
"Fine," I grunt.
Then I lunge at him, swinging my right arm. He goes to swat it away and I grin, swinging my leg up and turning my body, swiftly hitting him in the hip. He grunts and spins around, throwing a punch towards my stomach. I take a few steps back and the moment I stop moving he lunges at me, all six feet of terrifying male. I think quickly and drop down low, catching him around the thighs and using all my body strength to drive my shoulder into the soft flesh there.
"Fuck, I have balls, woman!" he grunts.
"You never said I had to play fair." I pant, shoving my shoulder harder into his groin. "You just said I have to take you down."
"Without making me infertile," he barks, using his foot to kick mine out from beneath me.
I go down, my face falling right into his groin as my legs go out from beneath me. My open, gasping mouth hits his ... well ... manly parts and I let go quickly, stumbling back onto the mat. I screech to the high heavens as laughter fills the room, and I realize everyone just saw my mouth cover my boss' dick. I stick my tongue out and start rubbing it frantically. "Gross, oh God!" "How does boss cock taste?" Devon, another one of the team members, yells out through laughter.
"Shut up, Dev," Nak barks, but I can hear the humor in his voice.
I look up at him, standing over me. "Why did you do that? I just got a mouthful of ... of ... ugh, oh my god."
He smirks. "I didn't know you were going to try and take a bite, sweetheart."
"I wasn't trying to take a bite," I yell, standing and continuing to rub my fingers over my tongue as if that will do anything.
"Looks like princess has a new move." Kyle laughs from the sidelines. "So tell me, Laney, are you going to take down a guy by having a bite of his dick? I guess it's an effective method. Whatever works for you. You are only a girl, after all."
My cheeks burn and shame rises in my belly. They think I'm a great big joke. All of them are standing there, laughing, so sure I'm never going to be a part of their team.
"How do sweaty balls taste?" someone else yells out.
"Aw, stop it," Kyle croons. "Princess is upset."
They've called me princess since the moment I joined the team, and right up until now I've been okay with it — I took it good-naturedly. Not today, though. Anger bubbles in my chest and shame rips through my veins, making my whole body feel tingly and hot. I shoot daggers at Kyle, and before I think about it, I charge towards him.
His eyes widen for a split second before he takes a step back and his hands go up. He's not quick enough, I catch him around the waist and he stumbles backwards, losing his footing. His big body sways and it's not hard to shove once more with all my might and take him down. We go together, me landing on top of him. I straddle his hips and lift a hand, slapping his face so hard his head swings to the side.
"Who's a princess now, jackass!" I bark.
Then I get off him, glaring at the rest of the team as I storm into the elevator.CHAPTER 3
I ignore the knocking sound on my office door.
Nope. I won't look up.
Whoever it is decides they're going to come in anyway, and when I look up from the case paperwork I am studying, I see Nak standing in the doorway with a coffee in hand. He smiles at me and extends the cup.
"Is that an 'I forgive you for trying to eat my penis' gift?" I mutter.
He chuckles and walks in, closing the door behind him. He pulls the seat across from me out and sits down, sliding the cup towards me. "No, it's because the way those men treated you out there was unfair."
"No, it was fact," I say, staring at my hands. "They think I'm a big joke, and why wouldn't they? I have yet to take any of them down."
"You got Kyle pretty good up in there."
I look up and his eyes are soft as he leans in close, putting his elbows on the table. "You've got what it takes, Laney, I don't doubt it for a second. But I can't let you out into the world until I'm confident you won't get hurt. I care about my team, and I'm not ashamed of having a woman on that team."
"Aren't you?" I whisper, meeting his eyes.
"Shit no," he says. "I didn't hire you because I felt sorry for you, Laney. You've seen my team, I only take the best."
I drop my gaze to my hands. "Then you must have had a brain fart the day you met me, because I'm far from the best."
"Look at me," he orders and I immediately look up. "I see raw talent in you, Delaney. I have seen it from the moment you walked in my doors looking for a job. Being a woman has nothing to do with having talent. You have to work harder, you have to be more focused, but it doesn't mean you are incapable of doing the job. With the right training, a woman that's half the size of you can take down a fully grown man."
"I've done all the training," I whisper.
"Yeah, you have. You just don't believe in yourself."
I flinch, his words hitting me like a slap. I open my mouth to say something, but nothing comes out. Nothing comes out because he's right. I don't believe in myself. Not really. I believe I'm capable, but I never push myself that extra mile. I guess I hold back because I'm scared. What waits outside those doors terrifies me and I'm so afraid of failing, of letting the team town, of letting myself down.
"I do, it's just ..."
"You don't feel like you're a part of the team," he finishes for me.
I look down again.
He reaches over the desk and flicks my hand, making me look back up at him. "You're as much a part of this team as any of those men in there, Delaney. Don't let them make you feel any different. Prove yourself to them. You have all the training to take me down, to take any of them down. If you want a case, if you truly want it, show me."
Excerpted from Hard to Forget by Bella Jewel. Copyright © 2015 Bella Jewel. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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