I’ve decided to stop stacking and to share with you all the first chapter of my current work, The Only Witness, which I’m pretty fond of.
The best thing about Vera Warren’s day was that it was over and now there was wine. It was her own fault really, she’d gone out for lunch and chose to go to Rose’s where she would have a great view of the main office of Vahalla Trucking because she wanted to catch a glimpse of Deacon Hawke or Deke as he was better known to friends and enemies alike.
Vera preferred to think of him as Deacon and she did think about him quite often since they’d been properly introduced by his sister at a party. Sure, she’d known who he was because she’d grown up in Center City but she’d never felt any sort of pull towards him. Since they’d had a five minute conversation, she did and it was becoming the bane of her existence because Deacon was not the sort of man who looked twice at a woman like her especially not when there were women who looked like the brunette he’d been kissing hanging all over him.
It wasn’t that she was jealous, which admittedly she was, it was more that she was disappointed because somewhere inside she kept harboring the hope that he’d look at her one day and something would just click for him. She’d been reading too many damn romance novels, that was for sure.
Vera flipped the sign on the front door of her shop, New to You, from open to closed. This was her favorite time of night; the quiet time when she’d count out her register, prepare her deposit, straighten the stock and not have to deal with the customers.
A few weeks ago after she’d completed her tasks she’d grab her keys and purse, set the alarm and head home. Now this was home. Rent had been eating up too much of her income so she’d done the responsible thing when her lease ended and moved into the small apartment over the shop.
The lack of space had been an adjustment but had also bolstered her stock. Her things, the ones that she could part with at least, were mingled in with items she’d procured from garage and estate sales and storage locker auctions. All things considered the shop was doing well, people were more inclined to buy gently used when they were keeping a tight hold on their purse strings and her products were all in superior condition or she wouldn’t even consider them.
One glass of wine turned into two as she finished up, shut off all but the lighting directly in front of the door and took the stairs two at a time to her new home. A smile crossed her face as she was finally able to get out of her clothes, toss them into the hamper and slip on a silky pair of pajama bottoms with a matching tank top.
Dinner was easy to decide, it was a diet week so into the microwave went one essentially tasteless frozen entree that wouldn’t cancel out too many of the calories she’d burned on her predawn run that morning. A third glass of wine accompanied the meal along with an erotic romance novel on her e-reader.
Vera’s life was a quiet one but she liked it that was. Quiet was easy. Quiet was simple and simple was good. She didn’t want or need complications. Everything that she could possibly need was right at her finger tips.
As was her habit she washed her wine glass and cleaned the kitchen before heading to the bedroom. It was almost a perfect silence as she brushed her teeth and washed her face. Vera had just reached for a towel to dry her face when she heard a familiar sound.
Her heart began to work harder as the motorcycle engine drew closer, it was only one bike. Hope roared to life inside her that it was Deacon, that he was coming to see her even as the more logical part of her brain said it was someone taking a short cut.
Vera forced herself to pick her e-reader back up and get into bed but she hadn’t been under the covers for thirty seconds when she got out of bed and made her way to the window to see who was on the now idling bike.
“What the fuck is this? This is not our deal!” An angry male voice shouted the words and Vera recognized it before she even reached the window, Grant Caldwell was well known around town for his temper and generally being a fuck up. His parents had retired to Florida several years before and he’d gone from being an affable fun drunk to someone who could fly off the handle at the slightest provocation. The last time that Vera had gone into THE BAR down the street for a cold drink Grant had flipped over two tables and shattered a bunch of glasses because he claimed to have given the bartender a twenty and she only gave him change for a ten.
Vera shifted the bedroom curtain slightly, just enough so that she could look out and be sure that anyone who looked back wouldn’t notice. Her lights were already out, she hated leaving lights burning when she didn’t need them. There were two men, and one bike, in her lot.
The second man was tall, wearing a ball cap but there was something about the way he stood and the lines of his body that told her she was looking at Deacon. Except unlike her fantasy he wasn’t there for her, this looked to be straight business.
She couldn’t name everything that THE CLUB was involved in, she was sure the protection money that they collected from her and other shop keepers weekly was only the tip of the iceberg.
The scene just screamed tension to her, Deacon took a step forward and Grant dropped to his knees. She was sure that he’d said something but his voice didn’t carry far enough for her to hear. Whatever was said, Grant was obviously frightened by it. “Please. No, you don’t have to do this. We can…”
The plea was cut off by a backhand to the face. It struck her as odd, Deacon seemed more a punch straight to the face type of guy but maybe he was trying to prove a point to Grant. It was pretty damn humiliating to be bitch smacked when you had balls.
Deacon reached behind him, it was only then she realized that he wasn’t wearing the black leather kutte that she’d become accustomed to seeing him in. Her stomach clenched tightly, not that she was an expert on MC culture but she’d done a little research and knew that members very rarely if ever removed them in public unless the situation called for it.
Her stomach clenched tightly as the barely there light of the moon illuminated what he had reached for. Even at the distance she could see that it was a gun. “Holy fucking shit!” Vera clapped her hand over her mouth as if they would hear her if she spoke. She kept it there even as her stomach tightened sickly, a man was about to be murdered right before her eyes.
She should do something! What kind of person just stood by and watched another human being die? It wasn’t the way that her parents had raised her. She’d come from a good home, been taught right from wrong but she didn’t reach for the phone on the side of her bed. No, calling the police was not an option because it was a direct move against THE CLUB.
In her line of work she’d had to deal with them for years, knew most by name. Some of their wives, or Old Ladies as they called them, liked to shop in the store and they were as nice as any of her other customers just like the men who came in weekly to collect their protection money were always nice. The thing was as nice as they were they’d proven to have deserved the reputation they carried as being outside of the law bad asses.
Rumors ran rampant, whispered from person to person of their involvement in drugs, guns, murder for hire and even human trafficking. Vera didn’t deal in rumors. Her personal experience told her all that she needed to know, if you wanted to stay breathing you stayed out of THE CLUB’s way.
She remained on her knees, which were beginning to ache from the pressure, next to the window and watched even though her mind screamed for her to look away as Deacon leveled the gun at Grant’s face.
There was no loud shot, her mind registered that the gun must have been silenced because Grant was on the ground. It might have been a trick of the light or of her eyes but she was certain she could see a pool of blood flooding around his now prone body. He hadn’t stood a chance. Vera’s stomach lunged and lurched, she managed to keep down her diet friendly meal and kept her eyes on the scene.
“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.” And just in case she wasn’t clear she repeated the curse over and over like a mantra, as Deacon turned to survey the surroundings. She stayed as still as a statue, sure that he couldn’t see her because of the lack of light but terrified to move and give away her position.
So she sat there, eyes trained on the scene as an SUV pulled in a few moments later. A second man, one she didn’t recognize, got out of the truck and stood over the body with Deacon. After a few minutes the two men began to move, a tarp was taken from the back and the body rolled and wrapped in it before being placed into the SUV.
Deacon followed the SUV out of the lot. It was now safe for her to move but Vera couldn’t because one fact kept repeating over and over through her head, she was the only witness to a crime that would put the most powerful man in Center City in jail for a very long time if the truth ever came out.
That truth wouldn’t come from her, she knew that much. First of all because it was tantamount to suicide, there would be no place far enough for her to hide from the wrath of THE CLUB. And second, as much as she didn’t want to admit it she would miss seeing Deacon around town even if it meant seeing him with someone who wasn’t her.
Long after the lot was empty she rose to her feet and got back into bed.
Vera spent the night tossing and turned. Just after one she’d debated taking something to help her sleep but immediately vetoed that idea when the memory of the Fed Ex man finding her ass naked and fast asleep on her front lawn when he came to deliver a package. He’d been thrilled and she’d stopped getting things sent FedEx if she could help it.
So she toughed it out, caught bits and pieces of sleep peppered with nightmares of what she’d just seem along with nightmares about Deacon in general. The theme seemed to be her making a humongous ass out of herself in front of him while he laughed.
Most morning she was ready to go well before nine when she actually opened the shop. She’d be downstairs at eight, doing a little straightening up and brewing coffee that she’d share with her customers. If she was in the mood sometimes she’d bake something as well but lately that mood hadn’t struck her.
It was just after nine when she got out of bed, Vera took a leisurely shower before heading downstairs with a granola bar in hand. The grandfather clock that she’d found in a storage locker told her it was quarter to ten. She was later than she’d realized but there was never a huge rush first thing in the morning so it wasn’t like it mattered.
She flipped on the light, started the coffee and walked over to the front door. There was a business card on the floor beneath her feet. It was most likely a real estate agent or someone who wanted to introduce her to their God so Vera nearly left it there but if she did and someone slipped on it she’d be liable for it. “Waste of a good tree,” she’d recycle it but still why bother with the card?
The good quality card nearly slipped from her fingers when she saw the card was from Valhalla Trucking. She flipped it over, her heart in her throat as she saw the scrawled writing on back.
Sign says you open at 9. It’s 9.
Despite wanting to run back upstairs and scream or cry or hide beneath her covers Vera unlocked the front door. For better or worse, she knew that Deacon Hawke would be back.
The visit and the card couldn’t be a coincidence, he had to have realized that she’d been watching the night before. Probably she was lucky that he hadn’t just broken into the house and silenced her, unless of course he wanted to get all the details from her before he killed her. Had he seen the curtain move? Had he been lurking just outside of her line of sight and seen when she turned the light on about ten minutes later because the dark had just been too much for her?
Left with her thoughts the morning passed by at a slower pace than usual. Vera sat at the counter and mostly screwed around on the Internet reading news and gossip without retaining any of the information but it was something to keep her busy. Her stomach rumbled and she realized that she’d only had the granola bar for breakfast. She was actually hungry. Seeing as it was possibly her last meal she decided to close the shop and head out to get take out in the form of eggplant parm and linguine with canollis for desert. The calorie count was horrifying but the thought of it was just too tempting to pass up.
Vera slid her sunglasses on and stepped outside, she turned to lock the dead bolt on the door. The second that her key hit the lock she heard the sound of an approaching bike. She jerked the key out, turned and wondered if she could make it to her car. It only took a second to realize that she wouldn’t, the bike was nearly at her door.
The bike pulled to the curb, the engines shut down and Deacon got off of the bike. “Going somewhere?”
“It’s lunch time.” Vera could have been blind and without a sense of smell but she’d still have felt the long and warm pull of attraction towards the tall, buff man. His hair and beard were dark, his eyes were covered by dark glasses but she knew that his lips looked absolutely perfect for kissing. She didn’t even want to start thinking about his hands or other parts.
“It’s eleven thirty,” he removed the sunglasses. His eyes seemed to shift from brown to green and were as absolutely perfect as his lips and as distracting. Deacon seemed to realize that because he grinned. “Little early, don’t you think?”
“I’m hungry,” Vera pressed her nails into her palms, maybe a little jolt of pain would shock some sense back into her. “Is there something that I can do for you?”
“Actually,” he removed his helmet, placed it on the handlebar of his bike, “I was hoping that we could have a little talk.”
A talk had a foreboding sound to it, Vera swallowed hard as her heart became lodged in her throat as it had when she’d seen the card. “A talk about what?”
“Let’s go inside,” he suggested but it didn’t seem like a suggestion. It was more of an order. Deacon Hawke was a man accustomed to getting what he wanted, no matter what that might be.
Vera knew that it wasn’t good he wanted privacy and wouldn’t answer her question, she just wasn’t sure if it meant that he realized what she’d seen last night or was being his normal charming self.
“I’m hungry,” she repeated as if the words would mean more to him the second time around.
“I wasted half an hour coming down here this morning to find this place closed when it should have been open. That’s no way to run a business.” He took a step closer to her eyes locked intently on her. “I’m not wasting another half an hour just to have to come back here later.”
“Maybe you should tell me what you want then,” Vera snapped. Her nerves were completely on edge, her mind flashing back to the night before and what she’d seen. Was that why he was there?
“You know my sister right, Adelaide?” His eyebrows were raised, obviously surprised that she’d been short with him.
Vera did all that she could to avoid his gaze. “You know that I do Deacon, we met at one of her parties.” As soon as she said the words she immediately wondered if he’d forgotten.
“Then you know that it’s her birthday next week. Usually I just give money to one of the charities she’s involved in but this year she’s made it pretty clear that she wants something more personal.” Deacon hooked his sunglasses into the collar of his tee shirt. “Think that you can help me out with that?”
Vera felt herself relax a little. If he was here about Adelaide and not what she’d seen the night before than she could simply help him find a great gift and send him on his merry way. The thought of it cheered her. “Alright, I’ll hold off on lunch. Wouldn’t want you to waste any more time.”
Once they were inside Deacon looked around and still couldn’t see what all of the fuss was about. His married guys were always bitching about how much money their wives spent and all of them shopped here, he didn’t see the appeal of used shit himself. “I want a necklace.”
If he were anyone else Vera would have teased him about him not seeming the jewelry type but even if she was more relaxed, she wasn’t stupid. “What kind of necklace?” The quicker she knew what he wanted was the quicker that he could leave.
Now that she’d relaxed a little about the reason that Deacon Hawke was standing larger than life in her store, Vera began to feel something besides fear. It was a warmth that spread through her body, sent tingles to parts of her which had been dormant for way too long. It was a struggle to push it aside and focus on what he was saying.
“Something with a charm on it.” Deacon told her.
“A charm? Like a pendant?” Vera cursed her wandering mind.
“Yeah, that’s what it’s called. It needs to be an emerald and it needs to be old.”
“Antique?” Vera walked over to the counter and picked up a small notebook. She began to jot down what he was looking for. It was rare that she took requests, she mostly dealt in the stock that she had but in this case she’s make an exception because honestly no one said no to Deacon Hawke.
“Yeah, I guess. I don’t know. I don’t know about this shit.” He motioned around the shop. “That’s why I’m telling you what I need.”
“Alright, an antique emerald pendant necklace that Adelaide would like.” Vera bit back a sigh because that was going to be no small feat.
“Exactly and I need it for Friday.”
“Friday? It’s Wednesday, hell it’s nearly noon so the day is half gone. You want me to find you the perfect gift in forty eight hours?” Vera demanded, her voice growing louder and annoyance spreading through her.
“Is that a problem?”
Vera finally met his eyes, had he seriously just asked her that with a straight face? He stared at her obviously waiting for an answer. She realized that it was a problem, it was a big problem but it was much more manageable than the reason she’d thought he was at her door.
“It is but I should be able to find you something,” Vera told him. “I can show you two that I have here but I’m not sure they’d be her taste.”
“Then I don’t want to see them.” Deacon began to wander around the shop, most of what he saw looked like shit from his grandmother’s house and there were times he thought that they were going to have to call that Hoarders show on her.
“Okay,” Vera said slowly. “You realize that this isn’t going to be cheap right?”
“Never said I wanted cheap, besides you’ll work with me on the price.”
There he went again with the ordering instead of asking, his cockiness was pissing her off and turning her on in equal measure which only made her angrier. “I’ll gladly give you a discount but it’s still going to be expensive,” she warned. She’d be damned if she ended up losing money.
“Do I look like I’m hurting for money?” Deacon drawled the words as he stepped closer.
“No,” she replied.
“That’s because I’m not,” he walked into an area full of chairs, “so it’s not an issue.” Deacon stopped short as a large brown chair caught his eye. “That’s for sale?”
Vera knew which chair he was talking about before she walked over to where he stood. Of course he’d zeroed in on her own personal favorite chair in the world, the chair that she couldn’t get up the stairs to her tiny apartment so she’d reluctantly placed it on the sales floor. “You want that one?”
“Aren’t you supposed to look happy when someone wants to buy shit?” Deacon questioned with surprise.
“Nothing in this store is shit,” Vera snarled the words as she turned to face him.
Deacon grinned slowly, eyes moving up and down her figure. She wasn’t stick skinny which was a good look for her, really good with curves in all the right places. He liked curved, never had understood the draw of fucking someone when you could feel their bones. Her hair had a reddish tint to it and was pulled back in a thick knot.
The urge to reach out and undo the knot was strong, stronger than Deacon had expected. It was right up there with the idea of kissing her until her lips were red, swollen and begging for more.
“I said nothing in this store is shit,” she repeated and crossed her arms. It was supposed to be a defensive gesture but all he saw was the way that it pushed her tits up.
“Sure it’s not Sweetheart,” he took a step closer to her, “got some real nice stuff in here. Like that chair. I want it.”
“Well you can’t have it, it’s not for sale.”
“The price tag says otherwise. I’ll take it. One of the guys will be by later with a truck to pick it up.” Deacon stepped back instead of forward like he wanted. As much as he’d have liked to keep up the back and forth with Vera, he had work which needed to be done.
“Should have taken the price tag off of it,” he grinned, “now how much do I owe you?”
“A thousand dollars,” Vera replied because it was triple what the chair had cost her and there was no way he was going to part with that much money for a chair.
“That tag says five hundred, that’s what I’ll pay.”
Vera’s mouth opened and closed several times as if she was trying to figure out something to say. Finally she let out a huff. “Fine,” her expression was one of annoyance, “if you’re done shopping, I’d really like to get to lunch and to get to work on this little project you’ve given me.”
“Just one more thing, how long have you been living in the apartment upstairs?”
“A few weeks,” Vera’s heart jumped right up into her throat again. “Why?”
“If we’d have know that you were living here, we’d have made sure that someone came past at night to make sure everything is okay. You haven’t had any trouble, have you?”
Vera forced herself to keep her eyes on his. “No trouble,” she told him, “everything’s been nice and quiet just the way I like it.”
“That’s good to know,” Deacon’s eyes moved over her face trying to put his finger on the reason she suddenly sure that she was lying. Her body language had changed. Had something happened? If so why not tell him, after all she was under protection of the club and she knew it. “You sure that everything has been okay?”
“I just said so,” her voice rose, her tone defensive. Something had happened and Deacon realized that he wanted to know exactly what that was but he knew that if he pressed her right now she’d just shut herself down. “I’ll let you go and get your lunch now.”
“Thanks,” Vera replied. “Oh, I need a number to contact you about the necklace. Should I use the one on the card?”
“No, trying to keep the gift a secret. Got a pen? I’ll give you my cell.” Deacon kept his eyes on her even as he wondered why the hell he cared so much if something had happened to her. He barely knew her, yet he was certain that if someone had hurt her he’d snap their neck without a second thought.
Vera handed over the small notebook she’d grabbed earlier and the pen. “I’ll call you as soon as I find something.”
“Do that,” Deacon gave her the paper back, “in fact, use it anytime that you want.” He grinned as her eyes widened in surprise but didn’t miss the fact that the pulse point in her neck had jumped in response to the offer.
Her words were cut off by his mouth as he closed the distance between them and claimed her lips. The taste of her was sweet, so sweet that he wanted more. When he deepened the kiss she didn’t protest, in fact she began to kiss him back. Her body was pressed against his, soft against hard and a small moan escaped her throat when he pressed his hips against her.
Deacon couldn’t remember the last time that he’d gotten rock hard from a kiss. Fuck, he’d probably been a horny teenager who hid out in the bathroom every chance he got at the time.
The kiss would have went further with neither of them stopping if his phone hadn’t rang. Deacon recognized the tone as being that of his prepaid which meant it was club business, there was no ignoring the club.
Deacon released her, reached into his pocket for the phone. “Yeah?” He growled the word into the phone. “Ten minutes.” He pocketed the phone and slipped his sunglasses back on. “Like I said, you use that number whenever you want.”
Vera felt a pang of disappointment as his eyes were covered once more and the feeling multiplied when he stepped back from her without trying to initiate contact. What the hell was wrong with her? Deacon Hawke might have been hot but she knew for a fact that he was a stone cold killer yet she continued to lust over him like a love sick teenager after the high school quarter back.
She followed him to the door, the sign was still flipped to closed and she left it that way though she no longer had a desire for food. He now knew that she’d been in the shop last night, it didn’t take a genius to figure out that there were plenty of windows she could have been peeping out of.
Somehow she was still breathing. Vera intended to keep it that way. She pushed everything she could out of her mind as she turned away from the door and sat down at the computer. It was time to do some work, keep her mind occupied and find what Deacon Hawke was looking for.