Home > Arctic Bite (Forgotten Brotherhood #2)(4)

Arctic Bite (Forgotten Brotherhood #2)(4)
Author: N.J. Walters

   This job was suddenly looking up.

   Without his having to ask, she started to refill his whiskey glasses. He stopped her before she poured more than the second one. “Coffee. Please,” he added.

   It wasn’t his imagination that she seemed relieved. A human would be drunk with the amount of alcohol he’d already consumed. Better to stop now and put her at ease, assure her she wasn’t dealing with a drunk.

   “Coffee it is.” She removed the empty glasses. While her back was turned, he tossed back the final one and set the glass on the counter as she returned with a mug filled with dark roast.

   She didn’t comment on the glass but simply removed it and the plates he’d cleaned off. Leaning his forearms on the counter and sandwiching his mug between his hands, he watched her work. It was a dance, a ballet, her movements fluid and unhurried, yet she got things done quickly and efficiently. He appreciated that quality.

   As the night progressed, the men in the back got rowdier. About half the crowd had called it a night. The music on the jukebox had switched from country to rock.

   The clock on the wall read one o’clock. The place shut down at two, so she’d be announcing last call soon.

   He stood and went down the short hallway to the bathroom, taking his time using the facilities and washing his hands. He still had almost another hour until closing. Not that watching Cassie was any hardship. She drew his attention without even trying.

   He’d just left the men’s room when he heard the sound of a raised male voice followed by Cassie’s low, calm tone. But he detected an edge of worry. Striding down the hall, he entered the main area. Everyone else had departed but the four men in the back who’d been playing pool and drinking all evening. They’d been well on their way to drunk when he’d arrived earlier.

   She’d been limiting them all evening, making them order food every now and again. But some of the other regulars had bought beer and delivered it to the pool area. He didn’t think she’d noticed as she’d been busy. There was no waitress working tonight. Was it always this way? Just her and the cook in the back? And the cook had closed the kitchen a short time ago. For all Alexei knew, he’d already gone home, leaving her to work alone.

   He didn’t like that. Not one bit.

   He headed toward the pool area, keeping his expression neutral.

   I’m not here to kill anyone.

   If he did anything to spook her, she’d run. Then he’d be stuck having to hunt her down again.

   And he’d had a tough enough time the first go around, even though the person trying to hire him had given him a general area. Northern Canada and Alaska covered a hell of a lot of territory, and it had taken him two months to track her to this location. He had no intention of losing her now that he’d found her.

   He stopped alongside her, calm and centered and ready for anything. “Problem?”

   …

   She should have known better. She tried to monitor this particular group every time they stopped by The Pit, but it wasn’t easy. When she wouldn’t serve them, they had friends buy them beer. Since Patty, the only waitress, had quit and run off with her new boyfriend earlier in the week, she’d been working solo. Pete didn’t count since he stayed in the kitchen.

   She’d managed because all the locals were used to her. But she couldn’t be everywhere at once. Now, the men were all more than a little drunk and not ready to go home.

   While she appreciated the gesture, the last thing she needed was Alexei getting involved. He was a stranger, an unknown element to toss into a potentially volatile mix. She could handle John Jacobs and his merry band of friends on her own. Trouble was to be avoided at all costs. That brought attention. Something she couldn’t afford. “No, no problem.”

   She smiled at John. Smiling in tense situations always seemed to confuse men. “There’s no problem, is there, Sam?” she appealed to one of the more level-headed members of the group. Or at least she hoped he’d be the voice of reason. There was no telling how he’d be now that he was drunk.

   Her boss wouldn’t appreciate the negative publicity if she had to call the local law. It would piss off the locals, who’d take their business elsewhere. These might be drunken idiots, but they had a wide circle of friends and family. Small towns were always a balancing act.

   “We’re not ready to go. Give us another drink, Cass.” John grinned. Okay, it was more of a leer really. “Be nice.”

   “I’ll serve you coffee. That’s on the house. You need to sober up before you leave. Can I call anyone to come and get you?” No way could she allow any of these four idiots to drive. They’d probably wreck their car and end up in hospital or dead. And she couldn’t let them walk. It was too far from town. In spite of the alcohol content in their blood, they’d likely pass out somewhere and freeze to death in a short time.

   And that would bring reapers. Something to be avoided at all costs. As it was, she’d had to bottle up her abilities—which included an inner awareness that allowed her to discern when someone was going to die. It would have been useful to scan everyone so she could avoid the dying, but using that skill would send out a signal that could be tracked.

   She also couldn’t sense a person’s emotions. Not like she once could.

   It was like being blind in many ways. Cut off from gifts she’d had her whole existence. The only upside was her other senses had developed to a far greater degree since she’d been on the run.

   “Coffee.” John scowled and swaggered toward her, pool stick in hand. “Fuck coffee. Right, boys?”

   “Yeah,” they all chorused.

   He gave her what he probably assumed was a charming smile. “Come on. Give us a beer.”

   No way could she give in. If she did it once, they’d never stop bending the rules. “No can do. I’ll get your coffee.” As she turned to walk away, he reached out to grab her. Expecting it, she was already sidestepping.

   Before she could react or he could touch her, his hand was snared and easily held. “You don’t want to do that.” Alexei’s voice was calm and laidback, but there was an edge of steel to it.

   “Stay out of this, buddy.”

   “Alexei,” the big man corrected.

   John frowned, confused. All that beer was obviously impacting what little good sense he possessed. Not that he had a whole lot to begin with, but when he wasn’t drinking, he was usually easy to manage.

   “I don’t give a fuck what your name is. Stay out of this.” He yanked his arm free. “Bring us some beers.”

   Standing her ground, she crossed her arms over her chest. “No. Coffee or nothing.” She peered over his shoulder at the other three. “Don’t make me have to call the law. I don’t want any trouble here.”

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