Living a life in the shadows wasn’t easy. To many, they only saw a certain persona. To the rest, I was something completely different. My father used to say we lived in an optical illusion. I didn’t agree with him when I was younger, but I did now.
One side of my life was the current Hell I was in at this very moment. A fundraiser gala. It was to help support the pediatric cardiology department at Hart’s Hope Hospital. I didn’t mind the tuxedo as I often favored suits. I didn’t really mind my date, Teresa, who looked stunning in her crimson red, floor-length gown, matching shoes, and more diamonds twinkling against her skin than a Tiffany’s display case. It was how fake they all felt they had to be. No one was genuinely selfless. We all wanted what was best for us first and foremost, and donating ridiculous amounts of money we never wanted to part with was how we made everyone love us.
“Isn’t that Richard Franklin?” Teresa asked as she sipped her champagne. Her blue eyes were homed in on the multi-millionaire who sat at a table with many other rich people of Haven Hart.
“I believe so. Why don’t you go say hello while I grab another drink at the bar?” I knew Teresa was only here to network and that didn’t offend me. I knew I’d be fucking her by the end of the night and she’d be gone by morning. That was a win for me. Great sex and no small talk.
“Are you sure?” Her golden hair was up in a relaxed bun, giving her an almost girl-next-door appearance, but the rest of her was all glamour, sex, and money.
“I’m positive. Go schmooze so I don’t have to. I will be over at the bar when you’re ready to leave.”
I had told her I wasn’t a fan of these things and would love a buffer. Teresa, a low woman on the totem pole PR agent, was desperate for her big break. I didn’t trust my secrets and lies to anyone, and I had told her as much. But I liked her enough to see if I could get her a client or two that could help her business.
I watched her saunter across the dance floor, smiling as she purposely bumped into any gentleman she could. Each man’s eyes lingered over her curvy form and by the time she reached her target, many men were drooling and many women were scowling.
The bar was long and wide, which suited me well. I didn’t like being squished and forced to be polite to people due to close quarters. I ordered a drink, sat on the mahogany stool, smoothed my beard down, and scanned the room.
There were two sides to every coin. To every person in this room, I was Terrance Blackrose, owner of Red Rose Protection Agency. I offered security and protection to the most elite. If you could afford it, you were elite to me. To the rest of the world, I was Black. I ran an assassin organization for the darkest and most powerful people in the world. One side of my life protected, the other killed.
Teresa was laughing beside Richard, and I was glad she had made a connection. It was close to the end of the gala and I was starving. I could never eat those tiny morsels they offered and feel filled. I wanted to grab a bite, go home, fuck Teresa into the mattress, and pass out.
Like she could sense my need, she got up, said farewell to Richard, and walked over to me, a bright smile challenging any other in the room.
“Are you ready to go?” she whispered into my ear, her breasts pressed against my arm, and I wondered if I was really as hungry as I had previously thought.
“I am.” I placed the tumbler on the bar and wrapped my arm around her waist. The gala was clearing out and I nodded my farewell to some people I knew. We stood under the large awning as limos and luxury cars lined up.
For events, I opted for my Cadillac SUV stretched limousine. It was on the obnoxious side, but I liked the comfort it provided. I wasn’t a small man. At over six foot five inches, I was tall. Because I worked out so much, I was also broad, muscular, and as some said, a monster. I needed room. It also helped that all my vehicles were armored. Teresa knew I ran a protection agency, she didn’t know I had a target on my back because of my other occupation.
“Here you go, sir,” the valet said with a smile as he held the door open. He was cute with his auburn hair, blue eyes, and sexy smirk. If Teresa hadn’t been with me, I’d have offered him a ride, and not just in my car.
“I’m starving,” Teresa said after my driver hit the highway.
“Why don’t we stop somewhere? I didn’t eat much, I rarely do at these things.”
Her laughter sounded like wind chimes. “Same here. It’s all rabbit food.” She reached into her clutch and pulled out her phone. “It’s not even midnight yet, I could go for a meatball sub and I love Quirks and Perks sandwiches. Want to stop there?”
I’d eaten at that place a couple times since I had been introduced to it a few months ago. I enjoyed the food and the atmosphere. The barista, Quill, on the other hand, was a challenge. There was an appeal that niggled at me with every glance, but he was young, flirty, and dangerous.
“Whatever you want,” I answered as I sat back and made quick work of answering a few emails and texts. Jones, one of my assassins, was in Brazil hunting a drug smuggler who gave a British debutant some bad shit, causing a drug overdose. Her father had gone on a rampage and wanted everyone killed. He’d contacted me, and I was able to make him understand that cutting the head of the snake off would be the best retaliation. He wanted to send a message. Jones, also known as Hangman, was perfect for the job. He’d kill the drug lord and hang his body for all to see. The text from him had confirmed the job was done and I was able to let the father know.
“We’re here,” Teresa said as we pulled up to the curb.
My driver opened the car door, and I chuckled as Teresa slipped off her shoes and walked barefoot into the café. The fact it was frigid outside didn’t stop her.
It was practically empty, there was a young couple sitting on a loveseat in the corner and an old man at a two-seater sipping his coffee. I only saw a young woman at the counter and breathed a sigh of relief when Quill was nowhere in sight. A part of me sort of enjoyed seeing what shenanigans he’d be up to, the other part couldn’t be bothered.
“What can I get you?” the woman, Mellissa, asked.
“I would like a meatball sub and a water. I’d have coffee, but then I’d never sleep.” Teresa gave a very uninterested Melissa her everybody-loves-me smile.
“Can I have your burger sub with extra pickles and mayo and a large iced coffee?” I didn’t sleep much, so coffee or not, it wouldn’t matter.
“That’ll be fifteen sixty.” I handed her my card and signed when she gave me the receipt. “Quill, I have an order. Don’t clean the grills yet,” Melissa shouted, and I cringed. Not because she was loud, but because Quill was, in fact, working and, in that moment, I wasn’t ready to see him.
“Okay.” His voice came from the back and I silently hoped he wouldn’t come up front.
While we waited, Teresa went on and on about Richard and how great he was and that he had told her he’d call her on Monday for an appointment. I wasn’t really listening to what she said and was glad when Melissa handed me my iced coffee so I could go over to the DIY counter to fix it.
“Here you go.” I heard Quill’s voice and stupidly thought if I didn’t turn around, he wouldn’t see me. But the kid had me on some kind of radar.
“Well, hello there,” he purred, and the sound of his footsteps told me he was coming my way. “Late night I see?”
I turned in his direction since there was no point in trying to run, he was relentless. “I had a work thing. Do you always work late?”
He shrugged as he fixed the sugar packets. His wrist was covered in his usual bracelets and his nails were painted a ruby red. “Sometimes. I have many jobs, as you know.”
I did. A couple months ago, Quill had witnessed one of my former assassins, Mace, put a bullet in a guy’s head. Bill, who was working with Mace at the time, didn’t want to off the kid, so I had them drive him to my office. It was there I learned that while annoying, Quill was loyal to a fault. I should have killed him, but his eyes told a tale older than his twenty-two years. I offered him a job to keep tabs on him. When I needed something delivered that wasn’t on the up and up, Quill made the item get to its destination. I rarely got to see him, and that was just fine by me. He seemed a bit obsessed with me.
“I’ll bring the tray over to the booth,” Teresa said as she walked past me.
“That your girlfriend?” I looked up in time to see Quill’s sour expression. It was short-lived though, and he smiled wide when he met my gaze. I didn’t know his eye color. Every time I saw him, he had different contacts in. Today they were violet.
“A date for the evening if you really must know.” I placed the lid on my coffee and walked in the direction of my food.
“A date that isn’t a girlfriend? So, you’re still single?” I heard Quill following me and, by the amused expression on Teresa’s face as I approached the booth, she had heard Quill’s question.
“Quill, I need you to clean the grill so we can close at a reasonable time tonight,” Melissa said. She gave Quill a small smile that told me she wasn’t angry, but there was something else there. I didn’t know what their relationship was, but when Quill went over to her, she squeezed his shoulder.
As soon as Quill was out of sight, she shot me a venomous glare. It was like ice in my veins. She was not happy with me and I didn’t have a clue why. I hadn’t done anything.
“So good,” Teresa said around her bite of food.
“Hurry up with that. I’ve been dying to get you out of that dress all evening.” I winked at her as she blushed and laughed as she began eating much faster.
I couldn’t worry about Quill, he was more than half my age and we had nothing in common. The fact he now worked for me meant he was off limits. I didn’t need more drama than what my life already had.
I didn’t see Quill again and when Teresa and I slipped back into my limo, I was ready for dessert. By the salacious look she gave me, I knew she was too.