“We have a thirty-day billing cycle, Miss Wade,” Randall Hamm, my “boss,” said from across the desk. If his creepy gaze drifted to my chest one more time, I was going to sock him in the throat.
It was one thing to own your sexuality and choose what, or who, you wanted to screw. There was empowerment in that, after all. But after a month of “accidental” gropes and the extra-long staring contests my boss had going with my boobs, I was done. Done with him. Done with this city. Just done.
Taking a few freelance programming gigs was how I had been supporting myself since moving to New York and crashing in on my friend, Megan Riley. Only now, New York was no longer safe, Megan Riley was off honeymooning as Mrs. Preston Strauss and my savings account was down to almost zero.
“Yeah, I get that. But I got your company’s server cleaned up, the website running and all malware erased. I fixed all the issues over two months ago. I’m leaving town tomorrow and need that money.”
“I’m sorry, my hands are tied,” he said, opening his folded hands atop his desk, obviously demonstrating the opposite of his words. “But perhaps I can send an e-mail to HR.”
HR? That was laughable. If by “HR” he meant the crabby old woman pushing files in the basement, then sending an e-mail to her would be of little help. This guy and his startup company were just trying to screw me out of my money.
“I could look into this for you,” he said, as his beady eyes roved downward again.
Instead of shrinking back or tugging on my shirt, I pushed the girls out and let him look his fill. One thing I learned growing up on the streets of Chicago was that pervs will be pervs, and if you want to survive, use what you have to your advantage.
“Oh, yeah? Well, I’d sure appreciate that, Mr. Hamm,” I said in the sultry voice I’d perfected over the years.
“And just how appreciative would you be, Miss Wade?”
He licked the small amount of spit at the corner of his mouth and shifted his hips in his chair. Never once taking his eyes from my body.
Definitely not that appreciative.
Yes, I needed the money and, yes, logic told me to do what I had to do to get what I needed to survive. It had been ten years since I’d had to beg for food or a place to stay.
Still, old habits die hard.
But not this time and not for this guy. He could take his receding hairline, potbelly and poor excuse for hygiene and f**k off. My patience was gone, my stress level was through the roof and the ability to run from a past that was literally hunting me down was weakening. I had officially met my ass**le quota for a lifetime.
“I would be so appreciative, Mr. Hamm, that I would be willing to not tell everyone what a sick bastard you are, or that you have a tiny penis.”
His face fell briefly, then rage overtook him.
“How dare you — ”
“How dare I? You’re the one jerking it in your office twenty-four seven.” Last month I had walked in on him and while that was an image that would haunt my nightmares, he hadn’t noticed my momentary interruption. “For God’s sake, at least lock the door.”
“You can see yourself out, Miss Wade,” he snapped.
I stood and slung my satchel over my shoulder. “I want my check.”
“We thank you for your freelance work,” he said in a snippy tone. “If you want to leave a mailing address, I’ll send your check out as soon as the thirty days has come up.”
The way he enunciated thirty days made me want to punch him all over again.
“Just send the check to my current address and thanks for your help.” Hope he heard my enunciation that time.
I turned to leave. Throwing the door open wide, I paused to say loudly, “By the way, if you want your database to stay up and your applications to stop crashing . . .” With my brightest smile, I glanced at him over my shoulder and added, “Try not downloading so much p**n .”
Last thing I saw was his smug turning scarlet in embarrassment. I walked from the building and out into the street.
Yanking my phone from my bag, I walked between two large buildings. The cool evening air held a hint of fall and the only thing I hated was that the change from summer to autumn brought shorter days and darker nights. Pressing the final number of my last resort, the person I had been determined never to call, I held the phone to my ear and kept walking.
“Miller and Associates, this is Benjamin.”
“Hey, Ben. It’s Emma.”
“Hello, Miss Wade.” Though I had met Ben several times over the years, we never really spoke. Since he was my brother Adam’s financial advisor, there was never a need to, but he’d always been pleasant to me. “Forgive me if I missed a call from your brother — ”
“Actually, Ben, I was wondering if we could keep Adam out of this.”
Adam already owned half of Chicago and I didn’t need to worry him with this. He was dealing with a lot of crap, trying to legally adopt his wife’s seven-year-old cousin. Jerry Springer territory, maybe. But they were happy. And aside from Megan and her new husband, Preston, they were the only family I cared about, which was why I had to stay away. Because being near them brought all my drama to their front door. And it was dangerous drama. There was no way I would risk them.
“Ben, I’m in a bind here. I know I’ve never taken money from the trust Adam set up for me, but I — ”
I stopped and checked over my shoulder. The sound of boots barely scraping the sidewalk behind me also stopped.
I felt like I was being followed. Like I had been for the past several months. Like I would continue to be until Mase either caught me, or I testified at the hearing.
Mase James was one of the James brothers, two people who I never wanted to run into again.
Convincing myself it was only paranoia, I returned my attention to Ben and picked up the pace. Only a couple more blocks to Times Square and I could lose the phantom ass**le.
Shit. I hated this. Hated that after all this time of taking care of myself, this is what it came to. Cowering at the sound of footsteps in an alley and keeping the only family I had at a distance.
“Is there any way to make a quick transfer of funds into my bank account without Adam knowing?”
“Adam is the executive signer, so I’d have to go through him.”
“But my name is on it too, right? He gave me that money to use if I ever needed it.”
“Well, yes. And it is at your disposal, Miss Wade. There has never been an issue before; if you let me call Adam, I’m sure he’d sign off.”