Caged in Winter

By: Brighton Walsh



And then clumsy as all shit, this drunk ass slides his hand down until it rests on her ass. She stiffens subtly, and I’m out of my chair before I can blink, my legs eating up the space between us until I’m right next to him.

I don’t think as I grab his hand, twisting it up and behind his back, pressing until I hear him groan. The image of Tessa or Haley in a place like this with a slimy jackass groping them hits me once again, and I push against this asshole harder, feeling a sick sense of satisfaction wash over me as his pained protests meet my ears.

I lean in, my voice quiet and controlled as I say, “If a girl says no, you listen, fucker.”





TWO



winter

The whole thing takes maybe two minutes—from the second the sleazy guy puts his arm around me until he’s practically falling out of his chair to leave. Two minutes. After three hours of waiting on them. Of smiles and flirtation and not slapping them across the face when they placed their orders straight to my nipples.

All that effort . . . gone. Erased. In two fucking minutes.

My customer scrambles out of his chair, his friends following behind, eyes wide as they toss money onto the table and walk out. Before they’re even out the door, I’m counting it and checking it against the total of their bill, praying that even with this behemoth next to me, obviously threatening them, they managed to leave me a little something. Hell, I’d take five bucks at this point. Five bucks could buy me breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

When I’ve triple-checked my math, I hang my head, my eyes closing, shoulders slumping. I take three deep breaths, hoping for a calm I know won’t come.

Seventeen cents. They left me seventeen cents.

I try not to panic, reminding myself I’ve gotten through worse than this. I’ve gone longer without any money on hand. Rent’s due tomorrow, and with my other tables, I’d made enough to cover it—just barely—but these guys were my meal ticket.

I’m off tomorrow and don’t have another shift until the following night, which means I’m going to have to last two days on whatever I can scrounge up in my kitchenette. Which isn’t much. I’ll have to ask Randy if I can pick up an extra shift tomorrow, even though he gets off on saying no, like he knows when I need it and refuses to help.

“Hey, are you okay?” A large hand settles over the expanse of my shoulder, pulling me out of my thoughts.

And all at once, my day catches up with me. The classes that are kicking my ass and running late tonight and having wasted three hours for a measly seventeen fucking cents, and I snap.

I whirl around, jabbing my finger into his too-large chest as I glare at him. “Who the fuck do you think you are?”


cade

Her sharp words and the fire in her eyes surprise me. I thought she’d be grateful, maybe offer a thank-you, but if the set of her jaw and the flattened line of her lips—Jesus, those lips—are any indication, she isn’t just mad. She’s livid.

Did I read it all wrong? Was she interested in that slimy asshole? Did she welcome his hands on her? But I know I saw her spine stiffen when he grabbed her ass. I saw her inch away from him. I know I did.

I open my mouth a couple times to say something, but nothing comes out. Which is probably good, because it seems she has a lot to say.

“I asked who you thought you were, dickhead.” She pokes her finger into my chest again, and even though the top of her head doesn’t even come up to my shoulder and she can’t weigh more than a buck ten, she exudes a don’t-fuck-with-me vibe like some of the biggest linebackers I ever encountered when I was still playing football. “You always go into people’s places of employment, shove your way in with your too-big shoulders and your giant arms, and manhandle whatever issues you see until you’re satisfied?”

Her voice gets louder with every word that comes out of her mouth until I feel nearly every pair of eyes in the pub looking at us. I still can’t find any words, dumbfounded by a reaction completely opposite of what I expected. And struck mute by the sight of her. She looks like an avenging angel, with her long, dark hair, the flush of her cheeks, the fire in her eyes, and the rage rolling off her.

If I thought she was hot with her mask in place, it has nothing on this pure, concentrated version of her.

She’s fucking gorgeous.

“Oh, now you don’t have anything to say.” She throws her hands up and walks a tight circle before she faces me again, pointing an accusatory finger at me. “Do you think I work here for fun? Do you think I like having my ass grabbed or my tits ‘accidentally’ grazed by these drunk, perverted assholes?” Before I can answer, she snaps, “No! I work here for the fucking money, and now I’m out—” She snatches the bill off the table, and her lips move almost indecipherably before she glares at me again, spitting, “Thirty-eight dollars, thanks to you.”

“I’m sor—”

She holds up her hand, stopping me before I can finish. “I don’t want your goddamn sorries. Go hop on your horse, Prince Charming, and save some other girl. I don’t need your help.”

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