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Beyond Hunger: A Romantic Strip Club Encounter (The Beyond Series Book 1) by Ashley Logan (1)

CHAPTER ONE

SERGE

Sergio Moretti knew he should go. He’d been told in plain English.

'Just go home, Serge. We don’t need you here.'

Gina had been admitted and her husband Rick had made it very clear that they needed their privacy.

Serge looked around the crowded waiting room and thought about going home.

Alone.

Or back to the station, where it must be obvious to every officer in the force that he had no life outside of work. He supposed he could always go to the gym and work out. Again. Or find a dark hole and drink himself into oblivion to avoid eating himself there instead.

Sighing, he leaned back on the plastic seat and watched the different folk filling the ER waiting room of Buffalo General. Feeling oddly comforted by their presence, he tried not to think about what that said about him, but couldn’t help running headlines through his mind.

Pathetic local cop seeks false company from ailing citizens. Local cop in love with married partner. Local cop wishes the baby she just lost was his.

Creep.

Eying the exit, Serge rubbed his hands down his jeans a few times and thought about which bar was closest and then where the nearest fast food was. His hands balled into fists as he resisted the temptation. If he could just keep his ass in the chair long enough, the feeling would pass. Shrinking into the seat, he stared at the floor, watching people's feet.

Would it really be too weird to just stay in the waiting room?

Looking up as a girl charged through the doors carting a suitcase as if she was late for a plane or something, he almost smiled until he studied her puffy eyes, the welted scratches across her forehead and the expression of both intense anger and determination on her face.

The detective in him perked up as he watched her head straight for the restrooms, pausing briefly to curse at her suitcase when it snagged on a child’s stray shoe. Slapping a hand over her mouth, she quickly apologized to the parents for her language, handed them the little shoe while she flashed a fleeting, yet dazzling smile, and continued directly on to the ladies’ room.

Realizing that he was smiling a little at the scene, Serge watched the door to the restrooms close behind her as he pondered her story. She looked as though she was having a really bad day, and by the beeline she’d made for the Johns, he guessed she’d been ready to burst. Judging by her casual clothes and her dark hair pulled into a messy knot, she'd looked young, but her mannerisms seemed mature and graceful. If he were to guess, he’d say late teens - early twenties.

Suddenly, the restroom door swung open and the same girl stalked back out with as much purpose as she’d had going in. Only this time she had no luggage.

Frowning, Serge stood automatically as she walked past. Her eyes never left the exit; she was on a mission. Looking back to the restrooms, he knew she hadn’t spent long enough in there to answer any call of nature, and his imagination ran wild with what she might have come in for.

“Excuse me, Miss?” he called as he followed her.

She glanced over her shoulder with such ferocity that he almost stopped dead.

“Not interested,” she warned as she kept walking.

Eyebrows plunging, Serge tried again. “Miss, you forgot your suitcase!”

“I meant to,” she growled without turning as she stormed out the door.

“But-” Going after her, Serge was surprised to find she was already some distance away.

“Excuse me miss!” he called after her as he jogged to catch up.

Still moving at pace, she looked back; her eyes growing huge when she saw him.

“Just leave me alone!” she yelled at him as if he was a threat. Increasing her pace, she crossed the street as the lights changed.

Held up by cars, Serge yelled from the curb. “Can’t leave you until I know what’s in the suitcase!”

“Back off, you fucking weirdo!” She broke into a run.

Dodging traffic, Serge sprinted after her. “Stop! Buffalo Police Department!” he called down the street.

She faltered. “What?”

Turning, she met his gaze again as he ran toward her. The expression on her face changed from surprise to fear. “Bullshit!”

Again she started running, but he’d soon made up the ground between them and reached for her as he demanded she stop again.

She wouldn’t. Putting up a fight, she lashed out at him instead and was feisty as all hell. Narrowly escaping her attempt to knee him in the balls, Serge hadn’t expected her fist to collide with the side of his face.

“You don’t want to do that!” he warned as he pulled her to the ground to contain her. Jaw throbbing, he pressed her to the sidewalk with his weight as he reached for the badge on the chain around his neck and brought it into her line of sight.

“I just wanted to ask you some questions!”

Her brown eyes went wide. “Oh fuck! I thought you were a fucking perv! I’m so sorry! Fuck.” All resistance left her as she shrank into the cement. “I just assaulted an officer?”

“And left unattended luggage in a public setting, in the age of terrorism paranoia. Care to explain as we head back and sort that out?”

Her eyes closed and she pressed her forehead against the rain-wet sidewalk.

That’s why you chased me?” Moaning as if in pain, she made a squinty face. “It’s not a bomb. They’re books.”

“Books?” he asked, confused. Sweeping her dark hair back to see her features more clearly, Serge tried to read her face. “Who leaves a suitcase full of books in a hospital restroom? In the middle of the night. And then runs away from a simple question. Explain more,” he demanded, helping her to her feet. “And you’re still coming back with me to confirm your story. Do you need cuffs on, or will you come willingly, knowing that I’ll tackle you to the ground again if you run?”

Sniffing loudly, she rose her eyes to the heavens and released a shuddering sigh. “I only ran in self defense. I don’t need handcuffs,” she said quietly. “Thank you for giving me the option.”

Slowly releasing his hold on her, Serge stood close as she retrieved her bag and slung it over her shoulder. Wiping her face, she sniffed again and dusted off her jeans. The grubby wet smudges spread with her efforts and she sighed. When she met his eyes, he couldn’t help but soften a little.

Gesturing for her to start walking, Serge began the trek back to the hospital. “Start with your name.”

“Violet Wheeler,” she mumbled with another sniff.

“Detective Moretti,” he replied, rubbing his jaw. “Quite the left hook you have there, Violet Wheeler.”

“Thanks. Sorry.” Looking at her feet, she sighed again. “Are you going to charge me?” she asked quietly.

“How about I wait until we clear up this suitcase business before I answer that?” he suggested, wondering if the ‘books’ story was bogus, or if it was the kind of strange tale that had to be true. Since he’d pinned her, all behavior exhibited by the girl suggested she was telling the truth. “What kind of books are we talking?”

“Medical texts.”

“Huh. And why are you leaving them in the ladies’?” he inquired, wondering what the hell her response would be.

“So that anyone who wants them can take them. They’re expensive to buy.”

Serge studied the young woman as she walked alongside him. “You’re just... giving them away?”

Her eyes darted away from him and she lifted one shoulder in a half shrug.

“I don’t need them.”

Why would she? Serge studied her as they walked. She walked too elegantly to be a doctor-type and her toes seemed to turn out a little at each step, more like a dancer.

“So... you’re not in Med School?”

“Not anymore.”

Well, this girl just got more interesting with every word out of her mouth. Serge cleared his throat and kept the curious smile from his face. This was just the distraction he'd needed.

“Okay. So you’re smart enough to have been studying medicine, but you leave a pile of text books in the ladies’ restroom of a hospital very late on a Saturday night. Can you see why I’m suspicious?” he asked, forcing a serious tone.

She shrugged as he waited for her to enter the waiting room ahead of him.

“I... wasn’t really thinking straight. I wanted to get rid of them and the hospital was nearby. Medical books; medical setting. I don’t know. It made sense at the time.” Violet shrugged again, as quiet sobs took her speech.

Beginning to feel sorry for her, Serge pushed open the restroom door and ushered her in.

There on the counter, next to the sinks, was the open suitcase. Full to the brim with brand new text books, it boasted a sign scrawled in black marker on the back of a faded takeout menu, stating ‘FREE’.

“Well,” he said, shaking his head. “Your very strange story checks out, though there are holes regarding your intent,” he continued, watching her closely. “You said they were for anyone. You do realize only women can take them if you leave them in the ladies’?” he asked on a hunch.

“Yeah, well.” Watching her shoe scuff a small, repetitive arc across the linoleum, Violet answered so quietly that Serge had to bend closer to hear.

“Guys are assholes.”

“Ah. I see.” Serge glanced at the empty stalls and pulled off some toilet paper, handing it to her. “Sounds like you’ve had a rough day. Sorry I ran you down and slammed you into the dirty sidewalk to top it off,” he offered with a cringe as she blew her nose loudly.

Running a few paper towels under the cold faucet, he held them out to her, gesturing to her forehead.

Swooping to the mirror, Violet’s reaction to her reflection was enough to make him wince. As fresh tears welled in her eyes, she cupped water in her hands and splashed it over her face. Grabbing the paper towels he’d been holding out, she scrubbed at the dirt and dried blood, becoming more and more distraught each time she met her own eyes in the mirror.

“Hey, hey,” Serge soothed, moving in to still her hands as she frantically grabbed for more towels. “It’s okay. You’re okay. Your face is clean and...” He pulled a leafy stick from the back of her hair and threw it in the trash. “And you don’t have shrubbery in your hair anymore. See? It’s okay.”

Their eyes met in the mirror and he stepped back, suddenly nervous. Violet’s behavior spoke of other things he was too familiar with. He took another step back.

Clasping his hands together he assumed a non-threatening posture and avoided looking directly her in the eyes by tilting himself to one side and gazing up at the ceiling.

“Violet, I know we just met - in pretty unhelpful circumstances, but do you need help?” he asked gently, lowering his eyes again. “I know I didn’t make a very good first impression, but I’m here to protect and serve if that’s what you’re in need of tonight.”

She just stared at him.

Taking a deep breath Serge pointed his thumb over his shoulder at the restroom door.

“I’m done out there, and I’m a good listener, if you need a coffee, or maybe just cab fare home, or something?”

Her eyes narrowed in the mirror and she regarded his plain clothes. “You’re off duty?”

He nodded.

Swiveling her head to the door, she looked back to him, her face serious. “You were in the waiting room for personal reasons?”

Shrugging, he ran a hand over his face and sighed. “I’ve had a rough day too, I guess.”

Violet’s eyes widened and her eyes began to scan him from head to toe in what Serge felt was some sort of physical assessment.

Holding up his hands for her to stop, Serge clarified what he meant.

“I’m fine. My partner was just admitted. Miscarriage. Her husband’s with her now.”

The confused look on her face had him thinking over what he’d said. “Work partner,” he added, hoping Violet didn’t think he was some untrustworthy, cheating asshole. Though admittedly, he’d gladly have taken Gina anyway she wanted if she’d only let him; married or no.

Raking his hands over his face again, Serge pushed those feelings down. He needed to stop thinking like that. They’d been about to have a baby. That was huge. And it meant all sort of things he didn’t even want to think about. All of them made him either lonely, or a terrible person.

Gritting his teeth, he swallowed hard and shoved Gina out of his head. When he looked up again, Violet was studying him, a concerned look on her face.

“It’s a bit late for coffee,” she said quietly, wiping her eyes again.

The force of her gaze made him uncomfortable and he averted his eyes again. Acknowledging her response with a nod, he wondered if he’d offered coffee in order to actually solve the girl’s problems, or to distract himself by doing so. He could definitely register a sense of rejection from her response, so he’d obviously wanted her to say yes.

Serge hid his disappointment by checking his phone. No messages. Of course. If he wasn’t standing in a public restroom with someone to witness him, he might have actually cried.

“How about a beer?” Violet asked, taking him by surprise. “Not too late for beer.”

Doing a double take, he watched as a small smile graced her lips. It was a genuine, legitimate, solid gold offering and was just what he was craving. Distraction and beer. He started smiling in response, but stopped. Turning side on, he squinted at her.

“You even old enough to drink?”

She laughed a little, which was a heck of a lot better than more tears. “Please. I’m twenty-two.”

Giving her a resigned nod, he held the door open for her. “You’d better be, Violet Wheeler.”

***

LEAVING HIS CAR IN the lot, they kept walking downtown. Serge watched Violet carefully. There was a residual tension about her that he was determined to shift and he planned to get to the bottom of what had been bothering her.

“You got a first name, officer Moretti?” Violet asked, as she took her phone from her bag and checked it.

“Detective,” he corrected, before offering a friendly grin and his hand to shake. “Sergio.”

Taking his hand, she shook it firmly and smiled with one side of her mouth as her shoulders eased to a relaxed position.

“Sergio Moretti,” she mused, as her footsteps got a little lighter. “That is very Italian. Do you make great pizza and pasta?”

Arching an eyebrow at her, he smiled back. “My Pops made great pasta, but he was Polish; and I hate pizza.”

“Who hates pizza?” she cried, clearly outraged. “I was right to call you a fucking weirdo, Sergio Moretti.”

Laughing, he shook his head. “Just for that, you’re buying the first round,” he said, following Vi’s lead as she walked towards a dingy pub. “This looks like a place where they’d spit-shine their glassware. You up for that?”

Giving him a strange look, she didn’t alter her direction. “I’ll drink from the bottle.”

Agreeing that he’d be doing the same, he pulled open the door to the seedy-looking bar called Frank’s and held it for her. “And just call me Serge. Everyone else does.”

Violet quirked an eyebrow at him. “Like a power surge?”

Trying not to smile, he shrugged. “You can call me Power Serge if you want. Has a nice ring to it.”

Violet snorted as she laughed, which only made her laugh harder. Her whole face lit up and Serge couldn’t help but laugh along with her. It was nice to see her relaxed.

Still chuckling to herself, Violet approached the bar and ordered two beers as she pulled herself onto a stool.

“Make sure you card her,” Serge told the bartender. “She looks about twelve to me.”

“Oh yeah? What are you? A hundred?”

“Close. Thirty-four.”

Digging in her bag for her license, she handed it to him instead of the chick behind the bar.

Inspecting it closely, he passed it on to the bartender and ignored Violet’s smug grin.

“Indiana?”

The smile dropped instantly from her face. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Clearly,” he said, clinking his bottle to hers before upending it down his throat. Sipping her own brew, she watched him out of the corner of her eye.

“You want to talk about your day?” she asked with genuine concern.

“Nope.” Sighing at himself, he put his empty bottle back on the bar and signaled for another. “Sorry. I was... thirsty. I’m better at listening than sharing. Why don’t you tell me why you had sticks in your hair, Violet Wheeler?”

“It’s Vi, and I jumped out a second floor window,” she said without emotion, turning her gaze to the liquor bottles behind the bar. “I used a bush to break my fall.”

Sucking his bottom lip, Serge nodded as she consumed most of her beer in one go.

“Yup. That explains the scratches. You want to talk about what was inside that made you jump out?”

“Not really.” She finished her beer, shrugged her eyebrows at the bartender when she offered another and thanked her when it came.

“You in trouble?” Serge asked her quietly.

“Not anymore,” she replied, her tone ending the discussion.

Watching her for a moment, Serge nodded, clinked his bottle against hers and drank.

“Are you in trouble?” she asked as she ordered two more beers.

“Drowning in it.” Moving his empty one along the bar, Serge took a fresh beer. “Or trying to drown it, maybe,” he said, staring at the bottle in his hand. “But I don’t think it’s contagious.”

“Bonus,” she said, clinking his bottle with hers before she drank.

He raised an eyebrow. “At least, I didn’t think it was contagious. Should you be drinking that fast?”

“Nope, but I left a party early, so I figure it’ll work itself out and head towards my evening’s originally intended direction.”

“Campus party?” Serge asked, trying to piece together what he knew about her and the fact that University orientation had kept his colleagues busy all week. “Thought you were done with Med School?”

“I am. I was saying goodbye now that everyone’s back in town.”

Serge slowed his drinking to casual sips as he thought. “Goodbyes can be sad.”

Vi stared at him, indignant. “I’m not sad.”

“My mistake. I was just thinking that misery loves company and I was keeping you company.”

She laughed out loud. “I’m pretty sure I’m company and you’re misery, but whatever, Serge.”

Turning face on to her, Serge set down his beer.

Was it that obvious?

Probably. No point denying it.

“I did need company tonight, so maybe you’re right, puffy eyes.”

Her eyes refocused on his face as if he’d said something profound that she hadn’t expected. Raising her drink to her lips, she lowered it again.

“I wasn’t crying because I was sad.”

Serge picked up his beer and gestured for her to continue as he took another gulp.

“I was angry. And disappointed. And downright annoyed at myself.” She paused to take another drink. When she lowered it again, her eyes were glassy with threatening tears. “I’m still fucking annoyed with myself.”

Serge shifted to face her more. “Why are you annoyed with yourself?”

Vi wiped her eyes and sniffed. “I made a stupid decision. And I knew it was stupid, but I didn’t listen to myself, because even a good decision would have felt the same to my fucked up brain. But it wasn’t good, it was very not good and I ended up having to play along with a sick asshole to get an opportunity to escape. And it could have easily been so much worse,” she said, breaking down. “So much fucking worse! I don’t even know how many guys he lived with, but if the jumbo fucking box of condoms on display was anything to go by... urgh! The world is so fucking full of assholes.”

Serge sat stunned. He’d seen this kind of thing before, but that was usually when Gina or some other female officer would take over. Not having that option, he just said what he was thinking. “Shit. Vi. I - I want to hug you or something, but I don’t want you to think I’m one of the assholes. What do I do?”

Shaking her head, she sniffed and scrubbed at her face, before giving herself a disgusted look.

“Get another round?” she asked, getting off her stool and adjusting the bag on her shoulder. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

She scuttled off to the restrooms and Serge took a deep breath, exhaling roughly. Rubbing his own face, he raised his eyes to see the bartender staring at him. “Relax, I’m not an asshole.”

She seemed unconvinced.

“The next beer will be our last,” he added. Giving him a small nod, she moved along with her washcloth to the other end of the bar.

Serge studied himself in the mirrored glass behind the bottles of liquor in front of him. He looked like shit. Dark rings circled his eyes and his dark stubble was too long to dismiss as five o’clock shadow. A beautiful face appeared next to his, and he turned around in surprise as Vi sat down again.

How had he not noticed how stunning she was until now?

She must be pretty desperate for company too, if she was here with him. How was that possible? He blinked at her.

“What are you doing here, Vi?”

She regarded him carefully and took up the beer that the bartender set in front of her. “Drinkin’ myself stupid with Power Serge?”

He shook his head. “I meant that whole 'what’s a girl like you, doing in a place like this' thing. You know - in a shitty bar, with the hopeless, pizza-hating weirdo that tackled you to the ground when he met you? Don’t you have somewhere better to be?”

She shrugged. “I’ve got places to be, but I -”

She frowned as she tried to phrase what she meant. “You are refreshingly real, Serge. You haven’t bullshitted me once, and I needed that. You’re helping restore my faith in the world. And if I want to get shit-faced, I need to do it in good company right?”

“Smart, but I still think your judgment might be impaired. We’re switching to non-alcoholic beverages after this one, just so you know.”

“See,” Vi said, clinking her bottle to his. “My judgment is just fine. You’re a gentleman.”

Choking as he drank, he lowered his beer to cough. “Not even close. But I am a cop if you want to press charges about that thing you mentioned earlier.”

Shaking her head, she looked at her lap. “Thanks, but it wouldn’t stick.”

“How do you know?” he asked, disappointed she wouldn’t even try. “If he gets away with it, he might try it on someone else. Someone less savvy and brave.”

“I know that,” she snapped, surprising him. “I’ll be thinking of a way to keep that from happening, but I’m not putting myself through the court system to be blamed for something I didn’t cause and have the asshole let off because he pays his lawyer more than I pay mine.”

Sitting back on his stool, Serge studied her. “He’s got money?”

Vi agreed with her eyebrows and took another drink.

“When you say you’ll find a way to stop him from doing anything else, do I have to worry about you jumping him in the street and cutting his throat open? Or his dick off? Or anything that would mean we’d have to hang out in a cell instead of this slightly, more attractive shit-hole?”

Laughing, Vi shot a look at the bartender. “Keep up those compliments and you’re going to find yourself on the curb outside this so-called shit-hole.”

Carefully checking the Bartender’s expression from under his brows, Serge looked back at Vi and smiled. “Noted.”

Swirling his beer, he found himself wishing it wasn’t nearly empty.

“Was the baby yours?”

Dropping his bottle, he scrambled to right it before he lost the last of his drink - it suddenly seemed so much more precious.

His heart pounded in his chest as he recovered the bottle, thankful it still held its contents. When it stood safely, he stared at her, trying to comprehend how the conversation had arrived at this.

Violet sat with her eyebrows raised in question and her face curious, but not condemning.

Shaking his head, Serge cradled his beer in both hands and gave it more attention than was warranted.

“You’re sure?” she pressured quietly.

“Positive,” he said firmly, not looking up. “I’ve never shared her bed.”

“But you want to.”

It wasn’t a question, so he didn’t have to deny it. Somehow he didn’t think Violet would believe him if he did. With a one-sided shrug of admission, he finished his beer and nudged the empty bottle away from him.

“So you’re hung up? That’s rough,” she said, finishing her own drink. “At least your drink wasn’t spiked, you weren’t offered cash for sex, knowing the sex would not only be taken regardless, but was also likely to turn into a gang bang of mass proportions, and you weren’t expected to accept all this as a huge fucking favor.”

Whipping his head up, Serge stared at her in disbelief.

“Tell me,” she said, resting her head on her hand, her elbow propped on the bar as she smiled sadly at him. “Do I look like a hooker?”

He couldn’t stop looking into her huge eyes.

“I’m serious, Serge. Do I look like a prostitute?”

Narrowing his eyes, he drew back. “Is this a trick question?”

Closing her eyes, Violet rubbed her forehead carefully to avoid her scratches.

“I’m just looking for an honest opinion. You seem honest. I need to know what it is about me that makes guys think they can pull this shit, because it keeps happening to me and I want it to stop.”

Serge studied her objectively and felt his brows draw down.

“Most hookers I’ve met advertise more skin and actively seek clientele,” he said, from recollection of cases he’d worked. “Some are good-looking, others not so much. Some make a ton of cash and live very well, others scrape by. Some bleach their hair, some have fewer teeth, rotten teeth, broken teeth and bruises, track marks on their arms, water in their lungs, marks on their necks, dumpsters for coffins, or back alleys as cemeteries. I bet they said ‘no’ somewhere along the line. Even a professional can get herself into situations she doesn’t want. The problem isn’t with you, Vi; it’s with the assholes.”

Nodding, she didn’t look convinced. “Do you think sometimes girls ask for it? That teasing a man with something they can’t have is taken by them to be some kind of willingness?”

Frowning even more, Serge wished he had another beer. “Life can tease, and life can be cruel. It doesn’t excuse bad behavior. Teasing can be fun to a point, and lines can be blurred, but that’s why we have laws - to make the lines clear.” He studied her face again. “Are you saying you feel responsible for what happened?”

Violet shrugged. “I think I was just trying to be me, when he presumed that I was another version of me and that maybe that particular version was up for something that she wasn’t. But before that version of me even existed, being me was an issue.”

Serge blinked several times, trying to keep up. “That’s a bit too cryptic at this stage of the night,” he said, rubbing his face to feel more alert. “Maybe you’re over-thinking. I’m pretty sure it all comes back to assholes. Which is why I spend my workdays trying to stop them, and my weekends trying to prevent kids from becoming them. Can I call you a cab, or something, Vi?” he asked, as she checked her watch. “It’s pretty late now and I feel it’s my duty to get you home unaccosted by assholes.”

Taking out her phone, she rapidly thumbed out a message and put it back in her bag. “Where are you headed? Maybe we can share a cab,” she suggested as she tidied her hair.

Where was he headed? His car was by the hospital, but he’d had too many beers to drive. He checked his own watch. 3am. He was taking a group of kids for a run around Niagara Square at nine. Sighing, he rubbed feeling back into his face.

“I’m headed downtown. The department on Franklin. I’ve got a stack of files on my desk and a bucket-load of shitty coffee to drink before the sun comes up.”

Violet grunted and shook her head. “Well Serge, you just got yourself an escort. I live on Franklin.”

“Huh. What are the odds?” he said, standing and readying his jacket as he looked out to the street to see the rain sheeting. Noticing she didn’t have a jacket with her, he stopped before he put his arm all the way into his sleeve and reversed his actions. Slinging it around her shoulders, he nodded her towards the door.

“Thanks for the beers -” he said, dropping a small wad of bills on the bar and squinting at the strategically placed name badge on the bartender’s chest. “Kelli. Sorry I used shitty as a descriptive. It’s a fine bar, really.”

Violet grabbed his shirt and pulled him out the door. “Did you think that was more complimentary?”

“It was meant to be an apology.”

Vi laughed as she held up a hand to hail a cab. “Needs work.”

“Where to?” the cabbie asked as they climbed in the back.

“Me first,” Vi said as she checked her phone. “I’m closest. Corner of Chippewa and Franklin please.”

Serge froze as he was shucking rain from his forehead. As the cab pulled away from the curb, he turned to Violet.

“Lot of clubs in that area.”

“Yeah. Most people think that kind of noise would keep you up, but I sleep like a log,” she said, tidying her hair again before shrugging out of his jacket and handing it back to him. “Thanks for the loan, but you’ll probably need it more than I will. My roommate is meeting me on the corner with one of mine.”

“That’s good,” he said, pleased she’d have company in that neighborhood. “It can be rough out there. You wouldn’t believe the shit that happens in some of those clubs. My friend Nina runs a decent joint around there, down where The Horny Buffalo used to be. I think it’s called Beyond or something, and I’ve heard it’s a damn sight classier than some of the others around there. The traffic in that neighborhood contains a lot of assholes, Vi. Maybe you should think about finding some other place to call home?”

“You know Prez?” she asked, dismissing his advice.

“Yeah,” he said slowly, as his stomach lurched. “She and I have worked on a few community projects together. How do you know Nina Pryzbylewski?” he asked as the cab pulled to a stop in front of a very well built man holding a bright yellow raincoat - the kind you might see kids wearing in storybooks.

Violet waved to the guy before turning back to face Serge. “I guess I’m kind of another joint project,” she said with the hint of a smile in her voice. “Thanks for turning a shitty night into a pretty okay one, Serge. I owe ya.” Collecting her bag, she started to back away before she stopped, meeting his eyes again.

“If you ever want to talk about how in love with your partner you wish you weren’t, I’m pretty good at listening too.” Giving him a quick, sympathetic smile, she left the cab.

Moments later, the door closed and there was a double tap on the roof to send him on his way. Looking out the back window, Serge watched as Violet Wheeler pulled on her coat, grinned at her companion and started to walk away under his wing. The rain eased a little and for a moment Serge could see her more clearly. A vision in yellow, Violet glanced back over her shoulder. Their eyes met and Serge found himself returning her growing smile.

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Royally Matched: A Royal Billionaire Second Chance Romance (Match Made in Heaven Series) by Jenna Brandt, Match Made in Heaven

STUFFED (The Slate Brothers, Book Two) by Harper James

Irish War Cry (Order of the Black Swan D.I.T. Book 3) by Victoria Danann

Forever Girl (Tagged Soldiers Book 2) by Sam Destiny

Savage Bliss (Corona Pride Book 5) by Liza Street