The peer and the puppet, p.32
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       The Peer and the Puppet, p.32

           B. B. Reid
 

  “Aargh!” Four shoved her skirt back in place, slammed the door after hopping out, and stomped inside the house.

  With a groan, I rested my head against the seat and willed my erection away.

  “You’re damn lucky, cousin, when you don’t deserve her.”

  “I know.”

  He clapped my shoulder before stumbling out of the car and disappearing inside the house. The burner phone I used for Exiled business began to ring as I parked the car inside the garage. I debated answering until curiosity won me over. It was better I knew if I had a price on my head.

  “This is Danny Boy.”

  As usual, Shane didn’t bother with pleasantries. “We need you for a job tonight.”

  I tamped down my surprise that he wasn’t grilling me about my absence and said, “I’ll pass. Find someone else.”

  “It’s not an option, but you knew that already. Normally, we wouldn’t use a fucking tenderfoot on the honcho’s personal errands, but Harlan’s got his hands tied dealing with something more important. You’re the next best thing, kid.”

  I stared into the distance, itching to ask about the job occupying Harlan’s focus, but I didn’t want to seem too interested. Now that my cover was blown, it was possible this was a trap. Maybe Harlan had never even left Blackwood Keep…

  I was ready to decline and spend the night buried inside princess when he added, “The boss man will be personally overseeing this job. Be at the junkyard by midnight, and don’t fuck up.”

  Fuck.

  Making Four submit would have to wait.

  I was finally getting an audience with Nathaniel Fox, and I knew if I passed up this opportunity, there wouldn’t be another.

  I HAD MY HEAD IN my textbook, but my mind was a million miles away. I think I was more disturbed by how easily I’d given in than having Jamie witness it all. Ever touched me, and nearly two weeks of resolve just melted away. He’d actually fingered me with one hand while driving home to take my virginity with the other. The promise of him inside of me obliterated common sense, and even now, I had to press my thighs together to lessen the ache. A groan, the first sound I’d made in hours, slipped out. I actually expected him to pursue me, and when he didn’t, it only made me feel worse. I needed to get my head in the game for the race tonight, and mourning my loss of dignity was getting in the way of that.

  Mickey had texted me this afternoon with the location. I just needed to figure out how to get in and out with no one—especially Ever—the wiser.

  I also needed a ride.

  I was debating how successful I’d be getting Ever to lift the keys to my bike without answering any questions when the knock on my door came. Knowing it was him on the other side, I hurried to answer. It was time to test my skills in deception.

  I opened the door, and rather than striking features, I was greeted by nothing. Stepping into the hall for a thorough look, I found it empty, but when I turned back, I discovered a small white bag hanging from my doorknob by the drawstrings. I retrieved the bag and locked myself in my room before inspecting the bag. With only the gray Apple logo as a clue, I opened the bag and found a white box bearing the same logo and a picture of a phone along with paperwork inside. I dumped the contents on my bed, and when a familiar slip of notepaper fell out, I rolled my eyes to keep from smiling.

  Once upon a puppet, she accepted this trinket as the smallest token of the peer’s affection.

  I picked up the paperwork and found my name listed among Thomas, Ever and Jamie’s, along with what was allegedly my new phone number circled in red. A curse exploded from my lips when I noticed the price of the phone. There was no way in hell the phone could possibly be worth that much! Curious now, I threw the top from the box and marveled over the shiny flat surface. It wasn’t that I’d never seen an iPhone before, but I certainly never owned one—and never expected to, especially if the amount it sold for was real. I gingerly lifted the phone from the box and tapped at the screen like I’d seen people do, but nothing happened. After a quick inspection, I noticed the flat, round button at the bottom and pressed it. I marveled at how bright and clear the screen was and all the bells and whistles. It took me a while to find the text app, and when I did, I typed in Ever’s number and found it already saved under ‘Boyfriend.’

  Someone was mighty presumptuous.

  I quickly sent him a text and got an immediate response:

  Is this for real?

  BOYFRIEND: All yours, baby.

  You didn’t have to do this.

  BOYFRIEND: Yeah…I did. Ditch the relic.

  Rolling my eyes, I bought myself time to think of a response by changing his contact name to something more fitting.

  Thank you, I suppose.

  PRICK: Leave your door unlocked tonight.

  I’m not repaying you with sex.

  PRICK: You’ll do as I say.

  I was ready to tell him how much I wouldn’t be doing that when I received another text.

  PRICK: And we both know it will be because you want to.

  Maybe.

  But he didn’t have to know that.

  And I didn’t have to make it easy for him.

  A cold shower will be all you have to look forward to tonight.

  I became anxious when a response didn’t come instantly. I was searching for something else to say when his response, along a with a picture, came through.

  PRICK: Wanna bet?

  When I clicked on the image, my new fancy phone slipped from my grasp onto the bed. With shaking hands, I retrieved it and gaped at the picture of an erection fit for a porn star trapped under gray cotton sweatpants, tanned six-pack, and the deep V trailing below his waistband. I could tell the picture was taken in his room while lying down. I just didn’t know how many girls he’d shown it to. Jealously strung a sharp chord in my chest as I texted my reply.

  How old is this pic?

  PRICK: Couple mins…why?

  The breath I held released in a rush of relief. I wasn’t sure I should like what this boy did to me, but I craved more of it. Checking out the picture he’d sent one last time before deleting, I changed his contact name again.

  No reason.

  EVER, PhD: Jealous?

  No.

  EVER, PhD: I feel possessive of you, too.

  Stop talking.

  I waited anxiously for his response. When ten minutes passed and none came, I tossed the phone aside and took Jay D for a walk to clear my head before I had to face him at dinner.

  Dinner had started out as just another dull affair until Rosalyn handed over my birth certificate to everyone’s surprise—other than Thomas’s, of course. I had a strong feeling he played a hand in her change of heart, especially when she visibly held back her displeasure during her silent acquiesce.

  It was just an hour until midnight, and since Ever not so surprisingly disappeared before I could ask for the keys, I enlisted Tyra’s help. She was excited to see me in action but warned me that lying to Ever wasn’t such a smart idea. I simply reminded her that I wasn’t just going to roll over whenever Ever commanded. She shrugged, but I could tell she fully expected to remind me how she’d ‘told me so’ soon enough. I pushed Ever to the back of my mind and got my head in the game.

  “So, how much do you get if you win?”

  “Thirty percent of the profits.”

  “That’s it?”

  “Mickey takes half for himself, and the remaining twenty percent goes to flipping the money of the winning bets.”

  “So if you win, you’ll make a lot of people happy?”

  “Pretty much.”

  “And if you lose?”

  I suddenly felt apprehensive about bringing Tyra along. It had been so long since I raced that I’d forgotten the danger in it. Some people were sore losers, and when money was involved, bitterness sometimes turned into rage.

  “Maybe you shouldn’t stick around. I can bum a ride from Mickey after the race is over.”

  Her expression quickly b
ecame eager. “Are you kidding me? There’s no way I’m missing you race. I need to see it for myself.”

  “It’s not safe. Some of Mickey’s buyers don’t like to lose.”

  “All the more reason to make sure you have a friendly face in the crowd when you cross the finish line.”

  I blew out a breath, knowing I was about to give in against my better judgment. “Stick close to Mickey. He’s a flirt, but I’m confident you can resist him.”

  She tapped her chin thoughtfully. “Maybe I should invite Vaughn and let him see for himself that I have options.”

  “Mickey isn’t exactly the boy next door, and Vaughn is much too whipped to care. It will be the brawl of the century.”

  She cackled and banged her fist against the steering wheel. “You might be right.”

  I checked my new phone for the thousandth time to ensure my absence hadn’t been discovered. It didn’t escape Tyra’s notice. “Why didn’t you invite him? I’m sure he would want to be there with his nose in the air and a hand on your ass to stake his claim.”

  “Somehow, I don’t think he would approve given what happened the last time I raced.”

  “He won’t like you lying about it, either. I wonder which offense will get you spanked?”

  “You’re relentless.”

  “I’m also right.”

  “I should have never told you about him trying to spank me.” I could feel myself flushing from the memory.

  “Don’t worry. You and Ever’s kinky secrets are safe with me.”

  “You do know Vaughn is just as domineering as Ever? Maybe even more so.”

  “There’s no way he’d get me over his knee without a fight.”

  “Don’t be so sure. If I hadn’t used my wits, he would have succeeded.”

  She groaned and sighed. “How did we get here, Four? I can’t remember a single moment before Vaughn.”

  “I don’t think I can, either.”

  We left each other to our thoughts, and an hour later, we drove through gates with a sign that read Hoarders Paradise and discarded junk waiting in piles beyond.

  “I’m glad to see you’ve still got it even though you and I both know you held back,” Mickey groused.

  I’d just finished a few test runs, committing the course to memory. There was also no way in hell I was going to trust my life on an untried bike. The makeshift course was about a couple of miles long. There were more than a few tight turns and lanes that would barely fit one rider, not to mention the difficulty seeing what was ahead with all the heaping piles of junk to navigate through. The natural terrain wouldn’t make winning easy, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle. I was actually looking forward to the challenge. Being faster wasn’t going to be enough. I’d also have to be the most cunning and daring.

  “It’s better if my competition believes they have the win in the bag. The assumption will make them sloppy.”

  He rubbed his hands together and nodded slowly in approval. “Keep it up, snow bunny. I like my women wily. Win this race, and I may have to propose.”

  “Mickey…”

  “Right. Right. No racial slurs. I know your rules.” He then flicked his chin to Tyra, who was looking around nervously. “What’s up with your friend? She got a man?”

  “Seriously? You were just hitting on me.”

  He smiled wide. “What can I say? I like to gamble.”

  “And the house always wins, Mick. She’s very much taken.”

  He shot me a skeptical look. “Are you just saying that because you secretly have a thing for me?”

  “Yeah…no. Her boyfriend’s a quarterback with a jealous streak a mile long, so watch where you point those beady little eyes.”

  He lifted his shirt to show off the gun tucked in his waistband. “I’m not worried.”

  Suddenly, I was very grateful for not having invited Ever and Vaughn. Mickey may have lost a few screws, but Ever and Vaughn weren’t exactly working with a full deck, either.

  A whistle pierced the air, and after a quick glance over his shoulder, Mickey turned serious. “Do I need to remind you of my rules?”

  “I remember. Is anyone going to try to kill me this time?”

  “I hope not, but I’ve got your back, and I’ve got a few men out there to ensure sportsmanship at all times.”

  I breathed a little easier, but I would still keep my eyes open. Mickey couldn’t be everywhere at once, and you never knew what evil might slip through the cracks.

  I WAS CAREFUL TO INHALE only through my mouth to avoid breathing in the horrible stench of the junkyard. The black bandana I had wrapped around the lower half of my face did little to mask the smell. It was a cold night, and the hoodie I wore under my leather bomber warded off most of the chill. I was having a harder time keeping my irritation in check.

  Shortly after arriving, I didn’t catch more than a glimpse of the man I assumed was Fox before a gun was shoved in my hands and the order to ensure our rider passed the finish line first was given. Shane warned there were men standing guard about a quarter mile apart who wouldn’t hesitate to kill me if they spotted me. Taking heed, I made sure to find a blind spot between the last sentry and the finish, but I still hadn’t figured out how I would accomplish the task. I was only willing to damn my soul for one man, so spilling the blood of an innocent wasn’t an option.

  Wary of this all being a trap, I made sure to enlist the help of Eddie and Siko, who were somewhere out there laying low and observing. Vaughn and Jamie had also insisted on having my back tonight, adding to my confidence that I’d live to see another day.

  Checking the time, I realized the race would start any minute, and I couldn’t help but think of Four. This was her world, and for a moment, I worried if somehow she’d found a way back to it. I debated texting her to assure myself that she was safely tucked into bed and waiting for me with the door unlocked.

  The sudden roar of engines in the distance drowned out my thoughts, and I ducked inside one of the rusted school buses that reeked of mold. I didn’t want anyone to see me before it was time.

  There were only a few hundred feet between me and the finish line, so whatever I did had to be done with stealth.

  The sound of the engines grew increasingly louder as they closed in. Since the race was unsanctioned, and they couldn’t risk the police being tipped, I would only have one shot. Making sure the other rider didn’t cross the finish line was my ticket to getting close to Fox. How far was I willing to go for that chance?

  The ground began to shake, so I took that as my cue as I sunk into the shadows behind the partially opened door and waited with a gun in my hand. I figured flashing it would be enough to unnerve the rider. I just had to wait for the right moment.

  The lead rider turned onto the straightaway, and I grimaced when I deduced that it wasn’t Hannibal, Fox’s rider. He wasn’t far behind, but the first rider’s lead was enough to make me break a sweat. If I failed, Hannibal wouldn’t win. The bus had been dumped at the end of the straightaway just where the curve began with the door facing the oncoming. My position was perfect. I just had to ensure my timing was, too.

  With the lead only a hundred feet away, I marveled over how small in stature the rider seemed. I was ready to make my presence known when the rider suddenly shifted in preparation for the turn and the moonlight illuminated their unusual headgear.

  Recognition delivered a powerful blow to my gut.

  I threw myself back into the shadows with a vicious curse just as Four, followed by Hannibal, took the turn. I didn’t stop to see if either of them had noticed me and drove my fist into the door of the bus with a roar until my entire arm ached.

  I was fantasizing about how I would even the score once I got Four alone when the reminder of Shane’s contingency plan if I failed barged through the red haze. Without a thought to how she’d betrayed me, or even a clear plan, I took off into the night to save her ass.

  “OH, MY GOD! YOU WERE amazing!” Tyra screeched as she clapped and ju
mped up and down. She was completely oblivious to the nasty looks she was drawing from the crowd while I was all too aware of the hostile scowls from those who lost a lot of money tonight. “Do you think you could teach me how to ride? Maybe I can go pro, too.”

  “Are you forgetting about medical school?”

  “Fuck med school. They can teach me how to save lives, but they can’t teach me the ways of the badass.”

  Mickey approached us with a grin the size of Texas and a fist full of cash. “Yeah, you still got it,” was all he said as he handed over the cash. His eyes were warning me to make a hasty getaway as he jerked his head toward the exit.

  I didn’t need to be told twice. “Time to go,” I said to Tyra.

  “We aren’t going to celebrate?”

  “I told you…this isn’t that type of scene.”

  We made it to her car without any hiccups, but my heart didn’t stop pounding until we passed through the gates.

  “So how much did you win?” she quizzed half a mile down the road. The junkyard was but a speck in the rearview mirror.

  I quickly counted out the cash, and my eyes bucked when I reached six grand. It was my biggest take yet.

  I was about to answer when she whispered, “What the hell?”

  Looking up, I spotted an older model green Accord and navy Impala blocking the road. A man was standing a few feet from the cars while one sat on the hood, another in the driver’s seat with his foot planted on the asphalt, and a fourth man on the furthest side standing in the driver’s door.

  “Four, what is this?” Tyra’s voice shook as she stopped the car twenty feet away.

  “A setup.”

  “What do they want?”

  “I’m guessing they want the cash.”

  “Are we going to give it to them?”

  “It looks like we don’t have a choice,” I mumbled. I’d already spotted the gun the point man held by his side. Forcing confidence in my voice to mask my fear and keep Tyra calm, I said, “Stay in the car. I’ll handle this.” I stuffed the money under the seat just in case I was wrong and exited the car.

 
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