never liked waiting tables, and taking this shift manager position seemed
appealing because I thought it meant not waiting tables. Unfortunately, when
employees call off work, the boss is left to do the dirty work. At least I had
Steph here. She and I had become fast friends when I got this job.
Steph called as she pushed the door to the kitchen open, carrying an empty
tray. “Table four wants their check.”
well, they can wait. I’m stalled here plating food.” I squeezed the chocolate
sauce and drizzled it over the plate of cheesecake. Steph passed, and I swore I
heard her stomach growling. “Gotta get this perfect for the Spencers.” With a
wink, I set the chocolate sauce aside and placed a sprig of mint on the plate.
Steph leaned against the counter next to me and helped, scooping another slice
of cheesecake onto the empty plate in front of her.
folks really took to you. You seem to know all their names.” Steph’s rendition
of the chocolate drizzled dessert was slightly messier than mine. But then,
food wasn’t always art, and it always tastes just as good even when it was
the boss ought to pay me for knowing his clients so well. I could probably be a
spy for the Brigazi and get big bucks.”
clenched her fist around my right bicep and hissed, “Shh.” She glanced around
the kitchen and turned back to me, her voice hushed. “You can’t say shit like
that around here. These people are dangerous.” The fear in her eyes startled me
for a moment but I shoved the feeling down. I was not a part of the whole mafia
scene; I was just a waitress-slash-manager at this restaurant. For all they
knew I was just trying to earn employee of the month.
Her warning made my heart leap into my throat. “It was just a joke.”
don’t joke around, Mia. Take it from me, it’s better to never get involved with
the Brigazi. My poor Will, rest his soul, was killed working for them. I’m
stuck here now. My son is ‘Brigazi property,’ or so they say. They act all high
and mighty like they’re doing me a favor but really my life is controlled by
shook her head and put the mint on the plate, sliding it over to me. I set both
plates on my tray along with two more glasses of Moscato for the Spencers, then
turned to face Steph who was shaking.
happened to him?” I’d known she was a single mother—widowed after only a few
years of marriage, but I never knew the story.
was running a shipment for them when it went sideways. He got gunned down and
his buddies left him. Doc said if he’d have gotten to a hospital he may have
lived, but I have a feeling that he knew too much. Like—” her voice got softer
“—the Brigazi knew something about him was off so they offed him.” Steph’s
eyebrows rose and her eyes glistened with tears. I could see the hair on her
arms standing on end.
really scare you that much?”
watched her head bob, her eyes wide and her skin pale. I didn’t understand the
fright. It was just a job for me, though everyone knew the Brigazi owned the
restaurant. I’d never had a run-in with them before, so perhaps I was naive.
But I had an ulterior motive for working here. I wanted to find out more about
my father—he died when I was a toddler, or at least that’s the story my mother
doing a bit of research on my own, I found no record of anyone with the last
name Ricci dying. Nor did I find an obituary or death certificate. Mom seemed
to clam up every time I brought the subject up, so I decided to do my own
investigation. Turned out, the path I chose led me to this restaurant. Mom used
to date the owner, and if I cozied up to him, maybe he would give me more
details. I knew he wasn’t my father—already counted that one out. The man was
white as white can be with blond hair and blue eyes. There was no way with my
darker complexion, brown eyes, and dark hair that I came from him, especially
considering my mother was also a blonde. No, the man who was my father had to
be someone else.
“You can’t trust them for nothing. Only reason I ain’t left yet is because I
have nothing, no one. Where would I go? My parents don't want nothing to do
with me after getting caught up in this life.”
shrugged. “I’m sorry that has been yoru experience, Steph. Trust me, I’m being
took a towel and started wiping the counter furiously. I could tell her nerves
were shot. “I thought your mom was loaded. Why you wanna work here and risk
getting wrapped up in mafia shit anyway?” She side-eyed me.
know—” I raised and lowered one shoulder “—I just want to do my own thing. Mom
is sort of controlling, thinks I should just live off her money and be some
socialite like her. I want more. I want to carve my own path, and be my own
woman. And I want to learn more about my father. I always have.”
you just steer clear of anything to do with Brigazi. And whatever you’re doing
here, whatever it is you have to prove, just finish it up and get the fuck outa
here. You will regret ever taking this job.”
ominous warning rang in my ears as I picked up the tray of desserts and drinks
and headed out to the dining room. The dim light made it difficult to see at
times, especially after being in the bright kitchen. I sauntered over to the
Spencers, placing their desserts and wine in front of them. Mrs. Spencer,
ravishing as always, thanked me profusely because I remembered their favorite
and brought it without being asked. Mr. Spencer, the sleazeball, made sure to
look at my ass every time I visited their table. I was certain he was so old he
couldn't even get it up if he tried, and I had no interest in men that age—not
even if they paid me a hefty price.
working all morning, and through the lunch rush, my feet were screaming, but I
managed to finish up the few tabs that were open, and slip back into the
kitchen before Steph even plated her last dishes.
going out to get some coffee real quick before we clean up and set for dinner
rush. Want anything?”
I squeezed her arm as I passed on my way to the
manager’s office. She frowned at me, the conversation still hanging over us
like a wet blanket. I knew she hated that I was getting messed up in Brigazi
life, and so did my mother, but I needed answers, and neither of them seemed to
care. It was like Steph was a clone of my mom only thirty years younger.
soy triple-late with two pumps of vanilla and get me a scone. My belly isn’t
settled today.” She held her stomach and grimaced. I imagined the reason why
her stomach wasn’t settled was because she still had anxiety about being where
wanted to feel that trapped by anything ever. I had a plan to be independent,
to chase my dreams. One day, my hope was to be a stewardess for an airline and
see the world, but for now, I just craved the answers about my father.
thing. Anyone else?” I called out to the busy staff as they bustled around the
kitchen. When I got only grunts or glares, I decided it was just me and Steph,
and I headed for the back door. The sun was blinding when I stepped outside.
May was a hot month in the city. It was crazy to me how hot the sun could cook
the pavement, which only tended to make you bake from beneath.
would probably be a million degrees, which would suck, but I didn’t have a
choice. I pushed the button on my keyfob and heard the chime of my car telling
me the locking mechanism had disengaged.
minute I sat behind the wheel, my phone rang. My mother. I answered it, not
surprised that she was calling to check in on me yet again. She had this
annoying knack for finding me at the worst moments and then nagging me about
the dumbest things.
you ‘What, Ma?’ me.” And there it was. “Young lady, I’ll have you know you were
supposed to call me on your break. I’ve told you those people you work for are
dangerous and you need to check in now and then.”
my break, Ma. I am running for coffee for me and Steph. I’m fine. I’m not dead
or kidnapped, and I haven’t signed up to be a drug runner. Okay?”
funny, Miangela. You know I worry about you.” As always, her tone dropped and
she began her manipulation.
you do, Ma. You’ll be the first person I call if I sense I’m in danger. Can I
go get my coffee now?” I put the key into ignition and started the car,
blasting the A/C as high as it would go.
but you call me as soon as you’re off work. Maybe you can come for
Maybe. Bye, Ma.”
I hung up and tossed the phone into the passenger seat, then threw the car in
reverse. I was so upset with her, I backed up a little more quickly than I
should have, and I didn’t even see the car coming. The grinding of metal on
metal and the sudden jerk to my vehicle made my heart jolt into instant
the car in park and looked in the rearview mirror. I had smashed into someone.
I slipped out of my car, leaving it running, and tiptoed to the back end. A
black sedan sat there with deep red stripes carved into its side. The door was
mangled, the mirror busted, and I was fucked. My palms were instantly
distress, I searched the surrounding area to see if there had been any
witnesses, but seeing only one dark-haired man on the phone less than a block
away—his back to me—and the massive ogre of a man coming at me, I felt very
intimidated. I reached for my pocket to pull my phone out but I had left it in
sorry!” I knew my voice was shaking, and I didn’t care. My heart was beating so
fast I swore I would have a heart attack. The man, dressed in a dark hoodie and
jeans, glared at me as he approached.
“You stupid bitch, don’t you even look where you’re going?” He was bent over
next to the car examining the damage, and I noticed the hood emblem—Mercedes.
sorry. I ended my phone call and— Well I didn’t see you until—” His scowl
sliced through me like a knife through butter.
He straightened and stomped over to me. I backed up, but found the side of a
tall panel van blocking my escape route. It warmed my backside as I leaned
against it. I had no idea what this man would do to me. He was scary as fuck:
thick bushy eyebrows, crooked nose, dark greasy hair falling in his face.
sorry,” I mumbled, pressed against the van. “I have insurance. I’ll pay for it
to get fixed.”
thing like you…” He leaned in closer to me, dragging a finger across my jaw
line before fluffing my hair. “You can pay in other ways.” His breath smelled
like beer, and made me want to retch. I pushed against his chest with my
go.” My voice now nothing more than a squeak, I strained against his weight.
you need to pay up now, bitch. See, where I come from, when you damage another
man’s property, you make it right.” His hands planted themselves on my hips and
I squirmed, trying to wriggle away.
turn it in to my insurance, I just need your license plate number.”
ain’t no one getting my plate number. Besides, it changes every week. Now, you
gonna pay up.” The man dragged his hand up my side until his thumb pushed into
it!” I pushed at him, turning my head way from his impending kiss.
panic of his nearness changed instantly as the brown-haired man intervened. I
didn’t even think he was paying attention, but I was glad he was. He slugged
the driver, who doubled over and then stood, wiping his mouth of blood.
you want to do about this, Asher? Butt the fuck out. She owes me.” The driver
came at me again, but Asher hooked an arm around his waist and pushed him back
so hard he slammed into the side of my car. The driver’s face screwed up into a
look that could kill.
owes you nothing. Get off my territory, or your ass is mine.” The man called
Asher, opened his coat to reveal a weapon holstered on his hip: black metal in a
matte finish that looked like it would leave a mark. “Leave. Now.”
driver glared at me again, then at Asher. He pointed a finger. “This ain’t
over, bitch. You gonna pay up, or I’ll make a way to take it from you.”
leave.” Asher drew his weapon, and I crouched to the ground, plugging my ears
for the expected blast. Terrified, I closed my eyes and curled into a
heard the blast, but what I did hear was the screeching of tires on the
pavement as the car drove off. I sat there trembling as Asher got into my car
and pulled it back into the spot. He even gave me my phone and locked the car,
but I was frozen.
You can’t stay here.”
up at his rugged face covered in stubble. Worry lines creased his forehead and
crow's feet graced his eyes, but there was a kindness in them. He offered me
his hand, and I took it, standing. He was a bit taller than me, and sturdy—like
he worked out or something.
you do that? How am I supposed to turn this in to insurance?” I followed him as
he headed toward the back door of the restaurant like he owned the joint.
want me to call him back and exchange information with you? You’ll get lead,
and he’ll get your blood. That’s about all that was going to happen. People
like Sashi don’t carry insurance. They don't even carry driver’s licenses.
Fuck, that probably ain’t even his car.”
about people like you?” I was irritated now. Asher thought he could just come
in and boss me around like he owned me? He just stopped a very bad situation,
but I didn't owe him anything, except a thank you and good day.
around on his heel and stared me down, his chest heaving, which I slammed into.
I quickly took a few steps back, enjoying the scent of his aftershave. His lips
pursed and then something about him softened. His chest rose and fell a few
time as he looked into my eyes. “People like me can only be pushed so far
before they snap.”
was a truth in his eyes as he spoke, but somehow I knew it was not regarding
the altercation and me. He had a melancholy soul, and it drew me toward him. So
much so that I hadn’t even looked at my own car to inspect the damage.
back at the alley and knew I should have called the police, but Asher grabbed
my elbow and dragged me inside. Steph stared at me with wide eyes, but said
Asher shouted and the manager came running. “Keep her inside. Sashi is on the
prowl out there.”
boss.” Hal peeked out the back door and then locked it, eyeing me with a bit of
irritation in his gaze.
never seen Hal cower before, but in front of Asher, he was like a minion
worshiping its god. Hal was one of the strictest most intimidating men I’d ever
met, so who the fuck was this Asher to make him cower?
you…” Asher turned to me. “You keep your head low. I’ll be back when you’re off
work to make sure you get out of here safely.”
you? Asher what?” I rubbed my arm where his hand had practically left a
Asher, the new manager here. You got Hal, Victor, and me now.”
Brigazi. I knew it was too good to be true.
look disappointed.” Logan raised an eyebrow.
just feel overwhelmed. I don’t know how to pay that guy back.”
listen to me—what's your name?”
listen to me, Mia. I’ll handle that guy. You just work hard and keep your nose
clean. You’re in Brigazi territory and you’re loyal. Ain’t nothing me, or
anyone else wouldn't do to make sure our turf and the people who live and work
here are safe.”
doubt that. I also didn’t doubt that he thought he owned me now. I swallowed
nervously while still rubbing my arm.
want to pay me back, how about dinner?”
shrugged. There was a mischievous twinkle in his eye—that boyish charm that
revealed his inner thoughts. He liked me.
With a wink, Logan entered the manager’s office and shut the door.
was spinning. The call with Mom, the accident, the almost-assault, Asher, and
dinner with him? I didn’t know if I should feel irritated, elated, or scared to
death until Steph grabbed my arm reminding my nervous system that it had just
been through an ordeal.
“Sorry. Listen. Asher is bad news, Mia. He’s new around here. No one knows much
about him except that Toni has a job for him. He’s scary strong—like threw a
two-hundred-pound man out a second-story window last week.”
Steph’s eyes were saucers as she told me what she considered terrifying things
about Logan Asher. All I could think about was how he had just rescued me from
what might have been the worst day of my life.
you’re overthinking things.” I brushed off Steph’s concern and finished out my
shift. When the restaurant was cleaned and restocked for dinner, I headed out
to the parking lot and checked out my car. A few black scrapes along the back
of the car and a few dents—not as bad as I feared.
As I was
turning to climb in, I saw Logan standing by the back door, arms folded over
his broad chest and solemn eyes locked on me. Other women might have been
unnerved by him, but I found him to be a mystery, an enigma. Logan Asher had
fixed his attention on me for whatever reason, and it wasn’t at all unwelcome.
He was handsome and strong. And if Hal was intimidated by him, then maybe he
had enough power to get me answers about my father.
climbed into my car and left work, Asher staring me down the whole time. I
didn’t live too far from work, but it always took twenty minutes due to
traffic. I’d have been smarter to walk some days, but May in NYC was stifling.
Air conditioning was a must.
in the car park and headed up to my apartment on the second floor, where my cat
Mitzy greeted me. I turned all three deadbolts on and sat my purse and phone
down. The day had been a roller coaster of emotion, and I needed a drink.
a bath sounded amazing, so I poured a glass and started the tub. I checked out
my arm to see a deep purple bruise hugging my elbow—Logan’s doing. But it
didn’t hurt like it should have. Something about him made it okay. I wished I’d
have gotten his number so I could at least text him and thank him again, but I
knew he’d be around now that he was manager of the store.
undressed and slipped into the bath, one of those old claw-foot deals that
should be every woman’s dream, but it was rusted and the ceramic was chipping.
At least it was a hot bath.
submerging myself entirely, I flicked on the television and grabbed my wine,
then sat back and let the bubbles take me away. I was so glad to have the day
over, even if I had gotten nowhere with info on my dad. Now I had a bit more
direction and motivation to see what would come of Logan Asher and how he might
be able to help me track down who my real father was.