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Darkened Desire: A Steamy Alpha Male Dark Romance by Kelli Walker (1)

Christie

Christie

Christie

Men are either good or honest. Never both, and never none. In my experience, most women prefer a good man. A structured man. A man that colors within the lines and adheres to the rules of society and makes a steady paycheck working a decent nine to five. That’s what defines a good man. His actions.

Me? I prefer an honest man.

Everyone always tells me actions speak louder than words. I hate that phrase. It makes me feel like I have to settle. It makes it sound like I have to settle for a man whose actions are better than his words. I must settle for a man whose words I have to ignore. So long as he brings home a paycheck and provides for his family and makes a decent effort in bed, it’s okay if his words aren’t true.

Well, I call bullshit.

A man must be honest. Always. It’s a prerequisite to his actions. If his words don’t mean anything, his actions speak even less. And I learned that lesson the hard way. My father was a good man. He worked. He brought home a steady income. He came home after his job instead of drinking with the guys after work. He played with me to give Mom a break. He was a good man.

But he was not an honest man.

I watched that lack of honesty destroy our family. The little white lies and the omissions of truth for no reason other than the fact that he could. It took my mother years to leave him. Years to finally get fed up with the lies that would never stop. Why did it take her so long to leave?

Because he was a good man.

My father was a provider. A lover. A confidant, when he wanted to be. It was that goodness that made my mother stick around. That made her offer up excuse after excuse as to why she tolerated my father’s behavior. His goodness ensnared her. Trapped her in a marriage that cast doubt on her entire life.

My mother stayed because my father was good, even though he was dishonest

That one specific trait destroyed my family piece by piece. I watched the only man I’d ever loved erode away in front of my eyes. Consumed by a compulsion he couldn’t control and couldn’t admit he had. Thread by thread, the ties within my family were cut. Lines were drawn in the sand and storms only seemed to grow thicker with fog and hatred. By the time my mother left, there was nothing left of her.

Or of myself.

Men do not have to be good. But they do have to be honest.

The issue in my life was that men defaulted to good. Never honesty. That was how they got away with it. That was how they got away with being indecent human beings. So long as their good acts outweighed their dishonesty, they thought they were fit for the women around them. And because of that skewed notion, it had been years since I’d been in a relationship. And just when I was finally opening up to the idea, my boss swooped in.

“I saw you applied for that promotion,” Ralph said as he brushed against my ass.

“For the third time, yes.”

“Do you think you deserve it?”

“I’ve worked here for five years. I know this craft store like the back of my hand. I could properly manage it,” I said.

“What do you feel your qualifications are?” he asked.

I felt his hand fall onto my hip before I scooted out of his grasp.

“Is this a formal interview?” I asked.

“If it is, we should conduct it in my office,” he said.

“Or we could go where you conduct the rest of your interviews. Over to the Customer Service desk.”

I knew what Ralph was trying to do, and it wouldn’t work. He’d been awful since my hiring. The worst possible man I could’ve worked her. He eyed me blatantly while his wife was in the shop. He made passes at me whenever people weren’t looking. But when I had moved to New York City for college from all the way down south in Louisiana, I needed the job. Something to give me some pocket change after digging myself into debt for my pointless degree. And the vintage craft store was incredibly popular with the growing community I landed in. Plus, he only came into the shop a handful of times a month. I kept telling myself it was a temporary gig. Something to help me groom my resume for something bigger.

Something better.

But a couple of months turned into a couple of years, and promotions came quickly. I started out as a part-time cashier and was quickly made a full-time employee after I graduated. Then I was made Shift Manager. Then I was made Manager of the Stockroom. Now, I was gunning for the General Manager position. In charge of the entire store when the owners were away. Which was practically always. I could work that position for a few months, then transfer into any store in the city I wanted to work in.

A few months.

That sounded familiar.

“So, you want the title of G.M.,” Ralph said.

“I do, yes.”

“What are you willing to do for it?”

I slowly turned towards him and eyed him carefully, taking a close look at where I was. I looked up and saw no cameras pointed at us. I was in the back corner of the stockroom with shelving that blocked my view of the door that led into the main shop. Then, I felt his hand descend to my hip again.

“Not that badly,” I said as I smacked his hand away.

“You’re not really in a position to be choosy, Christie. At least what I offer comes with a bonus on your end.”

“No managerial position on this planet is worth feeling your hand on my hip,” I said. “And how dare you tell me I’m not in a position to be ‘choosy’. Just because I’m a bigger woman doesn’t mean that men don’t look my way.”

“Most women would enjoy the position you’re standing in,” he said. “A guaranteed salary. Benefits. A promotion you could be proud of. All you have to do is--”

“If you finish that sentence, it’ll be the last words you speak.”

He repulsed me, and there was no way I’d work for this man any longer. He wasn’t good or honest. He was simply trash.

“Look,” Ralph said as he smoothed down his hair, “it’s simple. I help you out and you help me out. I can guarantee your job, and I’m sure you can at least get me to where I need to be.”

“Look,” I said as I mocked his tone, “I’m not interested. In fact, I’m done here. I quit.”

I went to go shove past him and his hand came down onto my wrist. He wrenched me around, stumbling me on my own two feet. I looked up into his beady black eyes and saw a filthy look come over his face. He shoved me back into the shelving and pinned my wrist down at my side as my free hand came up to grab his shirt.

Anything to put some sort of barrier between the two of us.

“If you tell my wife about this, I’ll make sure you don’t work in this area of town again. Now get out.”

* * *

“It’s because of your sexy ass body, Christie. It drives men crazy. Even nasty old men with no teeth.”

Scarlet’s voice purred into my ear from my phone as I bumped my freezer closed with my hip. Ice cream wasn’t going to fix anything, but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t give it a chance.

“Curves in all the wrong places isn’t exactly ‘sexy’. And anyway, stop victim blaming,” I said with a grin as I flopped down onto my couch.

I held my phone pinned to my shoulder as Scarlet’s snorting laughter rang into my ear. I was jobless, and I didn’t have much money to my name, but what I had was an entire city that was always looking for work. I probably wasn’t going to find anything glamorous, but at least I had the chance to find a boss that wouldn’t attempt to blackmail sex out of me for a promotion.

I took a bite of brownie-batter ice cream and sighed.

“I’m sick of men. And the idiotic part is I’d just convinced myself that maybe I was in a position to start dating again,” I said.

“Wait, when did this development come about?” Scarlet asked. “Since when did you make the decision to get back out there? You haven’t so much as talked about it since-.”

“Brett. Yes. I know.”

“Why the change of heart?”

“Well it’s not changed anymore,” I said as I took another bite. “But the inkling was there a couple of days ago.”

“Were you wearing that smoking hot red and gold dress when you had this epiphany? Because even I’d do you in that thing.”

I giggled as I spooned up another massive bite of ice cream.

Scarlet and I had been friends since my junior year of college. I met her through Brett, and the two of us stayed friends after I took his ass to the curb. I could tolerate a lot of stuff, but lying wasn’t one of them. One lie I could forgive. I could find a way to see around that. Even I was prone to telling a fib every once in a while. Like when Scarlet dyed her hair platinum blonde and I told her it looked amazing when really it made her look like a defective potato.

But two lies? And three lies? And multiple lies?

I knew what was at the end of that road. And I wasn’t traveling it again.

Our friendship had a familiar give-and-take. I’d call her and rant about how men couldn’t appreciate women like myself, and she’d call me with her ‘mystery man’ issues. I knew Scarlet was dating someone, and I knew that someone was taboo. She wouldn’t tell me his name or what he did for a living, which meant she probably didn’t need to be in the relationship in the first place. But even though she constantly omitted who he was, she never denied dating him. Or being smitten with him. She even went so far as to indulge me in their private life and admit to me that she could see herself settling down with him.

Those kinds of omissions I could accept. Though it bothered me that her excuse for it was because she didn’t want to ‘ruin his reputation.’

I made sure to keep tabs on that excuse just in case it became toxic for my best friend.

“Men are dogs,” Scarlet said. “But I’m sure there’s a lawsuit in this somewhere if you wanted to pursue it. Hell, I’ll even help you pursue it. Men like that make my skin crawl.”

Despite Ralph’s threat, the idea was tempting. It sure as hell would warn other women looking for employment skip his craft shop.

“The last thing I need to do is put a target on my back that could potentially tell employers I’m a trouble-starter. Once I nail down a job, maybe we could pursue it.”

“During this political climate? Have you seen the men on Hollywood falling these days? They would herald you as a hero, Christie.”

“Yes, if I wanted to take down Harvey Weinstein,” I said. “Not some nasty old rotted-teeth vintage craft shop owner. Plus, that stockroom barely has any cameras, and all of them are pointed towards exits. All I would have is my word against his, and his wife’s a surgeon. And on the board of one of the most prestigious hospitals in the area. They’d bury me in court in a heartbeat simply with the money they could throw at a lawyer.”

“Fuck being a woman in this society.”

“Fuck indeed,” I said.

Then, reality dawned on me.

“Damn it. I’m going to have to start job hunting.”

“If you want an upside to any of this, then that’s it. You can take this opportunity to do anything you want.”

“Yeah, since being an English Major in college gets me absolutely nothing,” I said.

“I told you to get that teaching licensure just in case.”

“Man, a ‘fuck men’ and an ‘I-told-you-so’ moment all in one phone conversation. You’re living the high life, Scarlet.”

“You simply make my life worth living, Christie.”

“I can hear your sly little grin.”

“Good, because it’s shouting loud today,” she said between her giggles.

She was right though. I had been feeling stagnant at the craft shop. It was just to pay rent in the beginning until I found something better, but I’d stopped looking after a month or two. I didn’t know where to start, or even what options I had. In the back of my mind, I questioned if I had any. Most days I held my head high and walked with a confidence some people thought I didn’t deserve, but other days the voices in my mind would scream a little louder than usual.

I could hear their arguments mounting.

“I’ll probably apply at a different craft stores,” I said. “Or draw on my barista skills that got me through high school. Either way, I was a stockroom manager for three years. That has to look good to someone in this city so I’m not stuck making minimum wage in a place that requires three times that just to breathe.”

“That’s a terrible idea, Christie. You deserve more than that.”

I heard her typing furiously in the background.

“Scarlet, what are you doing?”

“I’m doing you a favor,” she said. “And my favor is about to pay off. My boss’s brother is still interviewing for his personal secretarial position.”

“I have no office experience, Scarlet.”

“Those aren’t his qualifications. He wants someone with a college degree. That’s you. Someone who is tenacious. That’s also you. Someone who can learn new skills quickly. Definitely you.”

“I did learn the game of beer pong very quickly in college.”

“Oh yes you did,” she said. “But maybe leave that off your resume. He’s also looking for someone who can work longer hours if he needs them to. Which is you, because you have no life outside of me and that apartment of yours.”

“I don’t know if that’s a dig at me or a compliment to you,” I said as I took another bite of my ice cream. “I still don’t know if I’d fit as a secretary though. I don’t even think I own anything business appropriate.”

“Look, you need a job. You’re a brilliant, capable, gorgeous woman. So, I’m going to do you a solid and give you the office number. Then, you’re going to call it.”

“Oh, I am,” I said. “Because you demanded it?”

“No,” she said. “Because if you got this job then we’d see each other a lot more. My boss and his brother do dinner and business outings together a lot, and I’m invited sometimes. Which means if you’re his brother’s secretary, then you’ll be invited, too.”

“I knew there was a perk for you in all this,” I said with a smile. “And thanks for throwing in those compliments. A girl with thighs my size could use them every now and then.”

“Does that mean I can text you his office number and you’ll use it?”

I licked the last of my ice cream off the spoon, letting Scarlet sizzle in her limbo.

“Okay. Fine. What’s the number?” I asked.

“Christie, you’re going to nail this thing.”

I wasn’t sure if all of that was true, but the worst that could happen is he rejected my application. A girl had to start her job search somewhere, right?

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