Home > After the Storm (KGI #8)(2)

After the Storm (KGI #8)(2)
Author: Maya Banks

“Okay, then. What would you like to eat? They have a great club sandwich. But they also serve up a pretty mean choke-and-puke burger. A boy your size probably needs the protein.”

Travis grinned. Just a brief smile that erased some of the shadows in his eyes. But just as quickly it faded, leaving a much-too-old-for-his-age man staring back at her.

“Choke-and-puke?”

She laughed. “Yeah. It’s a good thing, though. It’s what my brothers call a really good burger with lots of grease and cheese. Homemade. Not the processed crap you get at fast-food restaurants. Around here, home cooking is a matter of pride. How’s a good choke-and-puke bacon cheeseburger grab you? And it’s my treat. It’s the least I can do to thank you for taking so much work off my shoulders.”

“That sounds great,” he admitted. “And thanks, Rusty. For everything, I mean. This means a lot to me and my sisters.”

It was so tempting to grab him and squeeze. To hug him and tell him everything would be all right. But she resisted because she knew that when she was his age, such a move would spook her. It had taken Rusty a long time to realize that not everyone in the world was out to hurt her. And that love was unconditional and given freely. No strings. No repercussions.

But her heart ached for him. She knew what it was like to be afraid. To go hungry. To have far too much responsibility for someone so young. Thank God for Marlene and Frank Kelly. Thank God for them all.

“Hey, no sweat, kid. Like I said, if it wasn’t you stocking all this stuff it would be me. Frank puts in way too many hours as it is. He had a heart attack a few years ago, and his wife stays after him to take it easy. But he’s stubborn as a Missouri mule, and so we try to make sure he doesn’t overdo it. You’re doing me a huge favor.”

He grinned and then went back to pulling out tools from the box on the floor, carefully arranging them in their respective places.

With a sigh, Rusty turned away and checked her watch. Frank wasn’t due in until two. It had taken a lot of arguing on her part to convince him that she was perfectly capable of managing the store until he came in to work from two to closing time at six. By then she would have fed the kid, paid him cash and sent him on his way, and Frank would be none the wiser. Hopefully.

When she got back up to the front of the store, she went behind the counter to get her purse. If she called in the order ahead of time she wouldn’t be gone but a few minutes. She didn’t like leaving the kid, but the cash register would be locked and she’d lock the door on her way out and flip up the “Closed” sign. She’d be back in a flash.

After phoning her order in, she hoisted her purse over her shoulder and headed for the door after calling back to Travis that she’d be back in five. She nearly collided with a male body on her way out and pulled up, barely able to stifle the curse that blistered her lips. Marlene was forever trying to make a lady of her.

But when she saw who had nearly run her over, she promptly regretted calling back the obscenities.

Sean Cameron stood in front of her, his gaze narrowed as he stared back at her.

“What now, Sean?” she asked in exasperation. The cop had always rubbed her the wrong way.

“Who’s the new employee?” Sean demanded. “Frank didn’t say anything about hiring someone new.”

Rusty sighed. There was nothing new about Sean breathing down her neck. Life in a small town definitely had its drawbacks. The kid hadn’t been here but two hours and already super cop was coming to check on him.

“I didn’t realize you moonlighted as Frank’s HR manager,” she said dryly.

His frown deepened. Not that that was anything new for her. Sean lived in disapproval of her. It was like he was just waiting for her to f**k up so he could run her out of town and out of the Kellys’ lives.

“Cut the crap, Rusty.”

She scowled at him, her patience snapping. “Really, Sean? Can’t you be a little more original with your insults? We’ve known each other how long now? Five years? And yet that’s your standard reply any time we’re in hearing distance of one another. ‘Cut the crap, Rusty.’”

She shook her head.

“Now if you’ll excuse me, I have lunch to pick up and then I have work to do. I’m sure you have something more important to do than to be looking over my shoulder every minute of the day.”

Sean scowled back. “Who’s the kid, Rusty?”

“If you want to interrogate me, then you’ll have to come with me to pick up lunch for me and ‘the kid,’ as you labeled him.” She’d referred to him as “the kid” too, but not as derisively as Sean had put it.

And then another thought occurred to her. One that had her locking the door as she shoved past Sean. She turned the key, ensuring that he wouldn’t get in while she was gone, and then she whirled, finger up as she leveled it at Sean.

“And you stay away from the kid. Got it? He’s none of your business. You don’t speak to him and you damn sure don’t interrogate him. I can take your shit. God knows I’ve been dealing with it for years. But you leave him the f**k alone or I swear to God I’ll make your life miserable.”

Sean’s eyes flickered, and for a moment she thought she saw actual regret.

“What’s his story?” Sean asked quietly.

Rusty took off in the direction of the sandwich shop, knowing that Sean would follow along. He was too stubborn to just let stuff go. He’d want to hear the kid’s life history before he backed off.

   
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