Mel asks, “But where did he come from? All of a sudden, I looked up and he was just there. Poof!” Mel makes imaginary sparkles with her hands, like she’s a magician. “And correct me if I’m wrong, but he looks a little bit familiar. I would have sworn that I’d seen him somewhere before.”
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We are sitting in her dorm room. Her roommate is out and Mel is bouncing up and down with excitement. She walks across the room and flops on her bed. I sit in the comfy chair opposite her and pull my feet under my butt.
“Mel, I don’t know where he came from. Sean seems to haunt that corner like a ghost. The first time I met him, he rode up next to me on a motorcycle and helped me get my car back. It was the night I was carjacked.”
Her grin widens. “He’s hot and he’s chivalrous? Jackpot!”
I shake my head. “No, not jackpot. He’s messed up. Sean looks familiar because his picture is in the book at Miss Black’s. He was the one who wanted a virgin.” I don’t know what I think about that He seems normal without that piece of information.
Mel starts to say something, but her mouth hangs open. It’s like the words evaporated or something. I lift a brow at her, like I told you so. A snarky expression flashes across her face, “Don’t go giving me that look. Everyone is fucked up to some extent.”
“This one seems more so than others.” A memory slips into my mind. I can see Sean’s eyes and feel them on me. It makes me heart race. I hate that I have that reaction to him. And his lips. Shut up! I scold myself. I add, “Besides, most guys don’t go looking for hookers.”
Mel holds up a finger and corrects me. “Call girls, high priced call girls. There’s a difference.” Like I should know that.
I snort. “Yeah, meaning the guys have money.”
“Well, that’s a difference,” Mel says like it’s a valid point. She locks eyes with me and says, “So, let me get this straight. This really hot guy offers to help you when some asshole steals your car, you accept his help, you guys get your car back, and then what?”
I nod as she speaks, affirming her conclusions. “Then, nothing. We said good-bye. I don’t have time to date and Sean didn’t seem interested, but then I saw him again. And again. He brought me home last night after I flooded the engine trying to start my car.” I have that vacant look in my eye that tells her that I’m remembering more than I’m saying.
“And. ” she prompts, prodding me with her eyes.
I shrug, not wanting to tell her about the kiss. “And nothing. He’s fucked up. You said so yourself. I can do damaged, but not—”
Mel starts laughing and I have no idea why. She’s lying on her back on the bed and actually kicks her feet over her head and holds her stomach as she shakes with laughter. As usual, I have no idea what’s so funny. Thinking quickly, I wonder what I missed, but don’t see it. I throw a thick pillow across the room and it slaps into her thigh.
Mel rolls upright and wipes a tear from her eye. Still smiling way too big, she says, “Holy shit! That’s why you took the job with Miss Black! You like him” She’s grinning at me now. Suddenly Mel regains her composure. Seriously, she asks, “Tell me, Avery, what are you planning to do when you meet him as Miss Black’s girl? Pretend that you’re someone else? Pretend that nothing ever happened? Or are you planning on using the SURPRISE! method of scaring the crap out of the guy Ya know, cakes aren’t part of our MO.”
I rub a finger to my temple. I didn’t really think about that part. “I thought he’d just gloss over it.” “You’re kind of hard to forget. You seriously think he’ll act like he doesn’t know you? Who’s mental now?” Mel folds her arms across her chest and gives me a look.
I make a strangled sound and bury my face in a pillow. Okay, maybe this is a bad plan. When I look up I say, “I am, obviously.” I take a deep breath and ask, “What do I do with this? Who signs up for this and has sex with a guy that she already knows?”
“No one. There’s a rule. Miss Black is strict with it. There are no extra relationships outside work when you’re with her company.”
“Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”
Mel blinks at me. “What fucking cow? We’re talking about you. White folks are so messed up.” She shakes her head and looks up at me, totally serious. “If you work for Black, you have no relationships outside of work. There are no real names, no addresses. Everything is done at hotels. The entire point is anonymity and the guy gets whatever fantasy he wants fulfilled. You kind of messed that up since you already know him”
A jolt of panic shoots through me. I lean forward in the chair. “I don’t really know him,” I stammer, “I mean, I don’t know his last name, where he lives, I don’t know anything about him besides that he’s hot and has a motorcycle.”
Mel holds up a hand and cuts me off. “What, you think I’m gonna rat you out? Get real, chica. I’m trying to help you. Don’t mention any of that to Miss Black and stay away from Sean outside of work He knows the rules as well as you do. Besides, if he breaks them, I hear Black has a security team that breaks his legs.”
“Are you serious?”
She nods. “There’s a lot of money in this business, enough to keep us safe and keep the guys from turning into stalkers. No one messes with us.” No one speaks for a moment. Mel’s amber gaze lifts and meets mine. “Are you really going to do it?”
My voice barely comes out. “I have to. There aren’t other options. Rent is astronomical and some temp job will render me homeless faster than I can blink. I did the math. I’m screwed. I might as well accept this as fate and go with it.”
I nod. “Yeah, if it wasn’t him—if I never met Sean—I couldn’t have gone through with it. As it is, I feel sick.”
She smiles weakly at me. “I know what you mean, but don’t worry, it’ll pass and I’ll help you through it.”