“You have a good weekend, hon.” Valerie offered the farewell, not wanting to rush now that she knew The Jerk didn’t like waiting. Working here did not mean she had to tolerate meatheads.
The boy cooed to Valerie and she smiled back.
As they left, Valerie eyed The Jerk. He stank of desperation. His eyes touched her, making a slow wander down her figure, but they were lifeless and dull.
“Now, this is more like it. Open the drawer real slow and keep your hands where I can see them.”
The pulse in her throat bumped against her skin. Her nerves clamored against her stomach walls. Okay. Mean might have been too mild.
She froze when the guy laid a small gun on the counter in front of her and covered it loosely with his big, grubby hand. Her gaze flew to his, her mind to the man in the beer cave. Was he still there? Had he left when she wasn’t looking?
“That’s right. No one’s here to save your sweet rear.”
She opened her mouth, a curse on her tongue.
His hand came out of nowhere and slammed against her jaw, knocking her into the cigarette shelves. Her head rang, but she kept her feet under her. The store was quiet. No one remained to help her.
Righting herself, she took a deliberate step up to the counter, and her foot connected to the button flush against the floor. A signal to the world outside. Her only hope. With shaking hands, she punched in a total for the cash register.
Her ear ached something fierce and her jaw throbbed, but Valerie wasn’t about to die for the job. She pulled the measly bit of cash from the drawer. “Here. Take it and go, okay?”
The Jerk grinned and ran the edge of the gun down the side of her breast. “Keep being good and maybe Randy will give you a prize.”
She backed up and a sound of repulsion escaped.
The man’s face grew red, and his thumb released the safety.
“You don’t want to do this,” she whispered.
“Hey Randy. Long time no see.”
Valerie almost peed her pants when Randy turned to look at the newcomer, and the gun in front of her wavered.
The beer guy hadn’t left.
A mixture of relief and panic swelled against her breastbone. Please don’t do anything stupid.
Blue Eyes dropped a six-pack on the counter hard enough to make the bottles rattle.
“If you’ll wait a minute while I’m taking care of this gentleman,” she forced from trembling lips, “it’ll only be a minute.”
Blue Eyes’ smile was easy going, as if he didn’t notice the gun or the man with the handful of cash next to him. “Sure, no problem. Randy and I go way back. How’s your sister doin’ anyway, Randy? What’s she got now, four kids?”
Bushy brows furrowed deeply in the crags of Randy’s pudgy forehead. “My sister doesn’t—”
Blue Eyes sent a solid left elbow into the thief’s temple, stunning him.
Then faster than Val could register, Randy was on the floor. His hands were tied behind his back with a frayed rope, like the one that had been holding the cardboard candy display against the wall at the back of the store. Her rescuer kicked the gun and it slid down aisle three.
“Oh, my God. Is he dead?” Horrified, the words echoed through her brain.
“Would I tie him up if he was?” Blue Eyes pursed his lips as he pulled his cell phone from his pocket. But the sound of sirens could be heard coming up the street. He snapped the phone closed and set it down. “I disarmed him and stopped him from robbing you blind before having his way with you and possibly killing you.”
Her mouth gaped as shock stalled her brain.
A soft moan rose from Randy’s prostrate form.
“You could at least say thank you, you know.”
That pulled her from the afflicting fog, and she sputtered. “Well, of all the—”
Valerie shrieked, making the man before her smile as he raised his hands and turned to the police officer. The smile boiled her already agitated blood. The nerve. Not that she wasn’t thankful. She was. More than… And God! Blue Eyes, of all people. Classic damsel in distress meets knight in shining armor.
Still, she would have said thank you without his prodding. Now it hardly seemed worth it. Pompous. He probably set this kind of scenario up with his buddy all the time, so he could play hero.
“Put your hands on the counter real slow, mister.” The police officer thought Blue Eyes was one of the bad guys. Surprisingly, Blue Eyes did as he was told without a word of objection. The officer patted him down.
“This your partner on the floor?”
Valerie opened her mouth to speak, even as his arrogant, challenging eyes met hers over the six pack. The man actually shook his head, as if he was disappointed in her.
Pursing her lips, she sighed. “They didn’t come together, officer. This man was shopping in the beer cave when Randy arrived to rob me.”
The officer pulled a wallet from Blue Eye’s jacket pocket and flipped to the inside. “Captain Kevin Morgan. You from Fort Bragg?”
No wonder. A soldier. She should have known. Growing up near the military base, soldiers were a dime a dozen. And they didn’t typically resemble the men in the books she read, either—charming, honest, …humble.
END OF EXCERPT
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