Home > Free Me (The Found Duet #1)

Free Me (The Found Duet #1)
Author: Laurelin Paige

Chapter One

I wasn’t supposed to be working the night I met JC.

Jana had called me at the last minute to fill in for her. I knew it was serious before she even started talking. Jana never called in sick.

“They said I need twelve stitches. On my chin, Gwen. Jesus, I hope it doesn’t scar.”

“I’m just glad you’re okay.” I really wanted to tell her it was surprising she hadn’t gotten hurt before this—roller derby wasn’t exactly a safe sport, after all—but I managed to refrain from chiding.

“Ah, that’s so sweet.” Her Long Island/Puerto Rican accent seemed heavier over the phone. Or maybe it was the pain pills they’d given her. “I’m fine, really. I could come in when I’m done.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I’ll take your whole shift.” What was I going to do anyway? Watching The Voice with Norma was pretty much the only thing on my agenda, and I could still catch the first half before I had to leave. It was our sisterly bonding ritual as she ended her day and I began mine. Lately, TV night with her had been less than fantastic, though, as if her mind were elsewhere. Which was weird. Where the fuck else could your mind be when Adam Levine was onscreen bantering with Blake Shelton?

But we had DVR. I could catch the rest in the morning before I went to bed.

“Thanks, babe,” Jana drawled in my ear. “I didn’t have a chance to call Matt, but I’m sure he’s cool. I’ll pick up your Thursday, that way you can still have your weekend.”

I hoped she wasn’t too doped up to remember that. I prized my “weekend”—my two days off from the Eighty-Eighth Floor where I worked. Not that I had anything exciting to do with the time off, and not that I really even needed the break. I’d work every shift if the law allowed. But I was the only manager at the club that had secured regular, sequential days off, and I valued what that meant. It meant I was good at my job. It meant I deserved the reward.

It meant there was something in this godforsaken life of mine that was actually worth something.

“You’re going in?” Norma asked as I clicked END on my cell. She didn’t look up from the papers spread across her desk tray. Norma was a workaholic, and although she tried to put it away on our nights together, it wasn’t unusual when she simply couldn’t. I didn’t resent her for it. Her job at Pierce Industries as a financial manager was earned by hard work and relentless ambition. That was my sister—ambitious to a flaw.

But her ambition got us out of the ghetto. It paid for the high-rise apartment she shared with me. It paid for my brother and his life on the other side of the country. It paid to keep us away from the past we didn’t ever want to go back to.

“Yeah,” I said, already stripping from my jeans. “Jana’s in the ER.” I paused as I debated whether or not to inform our general manager, Matt, then decided against it. He was on vacation for the week and didn’t need to be bothered with our minor changes. “She’s switching me for Thursday. So I’ll still have two days off in a row. We could watch Project Runway together this week.”

Norma lifted her eyes from her work and furrowed her brow, as if looking at a calendar hanging in midair before her. “Uh, I’m not sure Thursday will work for me. I have…something.” She disappeared into her work again without even remarking on the part where I said ER.

I shrugged as I gathered my clothes and headed to the shower. She probably had a fundraiser or another one of those fancy events she was always going to. Even my older sis of five years had a better social life than I did. So what that it was all related to her job? She still got out.

As the hot water streamed over my body, I swallowed back my impulse to envy and reminded myself that I could get out too if I wanted. I just hadn’t ever decided that was what I wanted. And if I did decide it was what I wanted, I’d have no idea at all how to go about doing it.




Working on a Tuesday was odd only in that I kept forgetting what day it was when I went to write it on my paperwork. The Eighty-Eighth Floor was one of the hottest clubs in Greenwich Village. Hell, it was one of the hottest clubs in New York City. We were nearly as busy on weeknights as we were on the weekends. Tonight was especially hopping because of the nearness to the holidays. Colleges were out, people were visiting friends, it was too cold for outdoor activities—though you wouldn’t have known that from the outfits most of the girls wore. Everywhere I looked there were breasts peeking over bikini tops and asses hanging below skirt hems. Perhaps I’d feel differently if I were liquoring up and shimmying on the floor, but I was covered and comfortable in my gray slacks and cowl-neck maroon tank top.

Maybe I was just too old for the club scene. Thirty was approaching. Was it normal to prefer a quiet evening on the couch to a night of dancing at this age? Norma had never been a partier, so I couldn’t compare myself to her. Our little brother, Benjamin, had lived on the West Coast since he was eighteen, so I wasn’t aware of his habits. And friends…well, I didn’t really have those.

That was the real problem, of course. I’d probably like clubbing just fine if I had someone to go with. Or maybe not. It was hard to know for sure.

I did like my job. It was steady and rhythmic. Managing gave me the opportunity to be no-nonsense and harsh. It was how I preferred to be. Cold. Hard. In charge.

The night was off to the usual start. All four of our floors were full, and we even had a small line at the door by eleven. The bars were all staffed well. The cash drawers all had sufficient change. Our best bouncer was working head security. It was starting out to be a predictable shift.

I knew better than to settle into the comfort of predictable. It was more important to be prepared. I should have been prepared.

But nothing could have prepared me for JC.

I’d only been on the clock for a couple of hours when I overheard the murmuring of the waitresses. They hushed the moment I came near, which wasn’t unusual. I was their boss, not their friend. Normally, I’d ignore that kind of buzz amongst the staff. Most of their gossip was about the hottest new employee or even where to score a quarter, which was not any of my concern as long as their job was done well.

This time, I heard two words that piqued me—Viper and cigar smoke. Okay, three words. A word and a phrase that automatically sent alarms sounding in my head.

I stepped closer to the women. “What’s that you were saying?”

Bethany’s eyes went wide. “I have to deliver this.” She took off toward the lounge with her tray of appetizers before I could stop her.

The other waitress was still entering her order into the register. She didn’t have an excuse to run.

I leaned against the counter next to her, grateful that the registers were off the kitchen in a quieter part of the club where I didn’t have to shout to be heard. “Alyssa, what did she mean about cigar smoke in the Viper?” It wasn’t that unusual to have patrons mouth the damn things without lighting them—helped with that oral fixation thing that so many people had—but the actual smoking of cigars was not allowed in the club. The Eighty-Eighth Floor was a smoke-free establishment, and if that rule was being ignored, then I had to address it.

Alyssa didn’t look up from the computer right away. I saw her throat move as she swallowed. Then she met my eyes, a bright smile on her lips. Too bright of a smile. “Oh, you know. Just talk. I’m sure there’s not really any smoking going on.”

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