It’s been a while since I have posted anything new. Below is a new beginning that came to me for the third book in my series. I appreciate any feedback!
PS. Sorry for the length!
“Viv,” Tory Zelko turned when she heard the name she started using when working at Absinthe. Destiny, a fellow server, stood behind her, looking between her and the bar. The brunette’s deep red lips whispered, “What’d you do? There is some haughty, three-piece suit asking for you over at the bar.” Tory turned to the bar and saw the outsider talking to a bartender she hadn’t seen before.
“Me?” Tory cried quietly. She made it a point not to stand out, but to blend into the crowd. She turned to face Destiny, “You think that new bartender will give me away?”
“He’s not new. Vince just doesn’t get to work a lot with his other job and he won’t rat you out. Wait ‘til the douche leaves, then go see what he wanted. Just so you know, Vince hates snoops, he may cop a ‘tude with you for bringing your personal life here. Watch your back.” Destiny sauntered away and Tory returned her attention to the bar. She saw the suit shake Vince’s hand, pass him a business card and then turn toward the exit. The gentleman wove through the crowd and as soon as the man passed by the bouncer, she looked back to the bar. Vince crossed his muscular arms over his wide chest and motioned for her to come over with the jerk of his head. She grabbed a few empty bottles from one of her tables and made her way to the bar.
“I’m Vince Langford, I don’t think we’ve officially met,” he handed her the business card. “Do I want to know what you are up to?”
“Vivian. I am sorry for that, whatever that was. I do wish I knew what I was apologizing for,” Tory said as she examined the card.
“You don’t have to apologize,” said Vince.
She smiled, “Destiny told me you didn’t like personal mixing with business.”
“Good. I’m glad she still sees me that way. It keeps her personal drama out of here.”
Tory felt the raised letters of SBW & Co. caress her fingertips and she flipped the card over. “Do you know what SBW & Co. is?”
As he nodded his head, she saw him flash a smile that reached his beautiful ice blue eyes. “What’s the back say?”
“We have urgent business to discuss. Please call my assistant.” She scoffed, “Well that isn’t any help.” She flipped the card back over and read the small print. “So what is SBW & Co.?”
“Can’t tell you, or I’d have to kill you. But I do take my nana there once a month.”
Tory quirked her eyebrow at the guy, “You take your what?”
“Oh piss off,” he winked at her. “Don’t let the costume fool you. I was raised right and I am not ashamed.”
She smiled at him, “I knew you couldn’t be the bad ass you were trying to portray with the leather pants and shit-kickers.”
He leaned across the bar and whispered, “All kidding aside Tory, you better make that call first thing in the morning.”
She looked around them, ensuring no eavesdroppers. “How long have you known my real name?”
“I have my ways,” he grinned as he stroked his chin. “I figured if you wanted people to know, you would tell them. Now, promise me that you will call promptly at nine tomorrow morning. The business that man has with you must be important for him to track you down here. This isn’t his local watering hole. Hell, this is isn’t even his zip code.”
She eyed Vince, “You know him?”
He winked and said, “I’d have to kill you and it would be tragic to lose someone so nice.”
She heard him laugh as he walked to the other side of the bar to a waiting customer. She read the business card once more, hoping something would give her a hint about SBW&Co. She tucked the business card away and went back to taking care of her tables. She wondered if her best friend, Shiloh Ashford, knew anything about the mysterious company. Shiloh kept her daughter, Emily, for her on the nights she worked at Absinthe and during the school year when she had classes.
“Last call folks.” Tory sighed in relief as she heard her favorite words called out to the remaining patrons. Tuesday nights usually weren’t exceptionally busy, but there was a concert nearby that ended about an hour ago. Tory liked the band, but the cost would be more than just the price of the ticket; she’d lose a nights work too.
She hustled to the recently emptied tables and cleared the glasses, gathering the large tips left by the inebriated patrons. She saw Destiny chatting up with one the customers and then realized it was her boyfriend. He came in every night she worked and waited for her shift to end. Tory didn’t understand how he could sit there and watch Destiny work her tables as she did, playfully flirting with all of the guys.
“Hey Viv,” called Vince from the bar.
Tory walked over with the last of her empties. “What’s up?”
“I just want to make sure you still have that card and that you promise to call them in the morning.”
Tory pulled the card from her bustier, “Still safe. Why does it matter to you?” Tory saw Vince squirm. She said, “Oh never mind. I get it. You’d have to kill me. I promise I will call. I’ll tell you what, you give me your number and I will call you the minute I hang up with them.”
Vince smirked, “If you wanted my number all you had to do was ask.”
Tory scoffed, “Please, if you weren’t being such an ass about this, I wouldn’t be asking. I don’t have time for guys right now; not with a three-year-old at home waiting on me.” She watched his face change from flirty to serious in two seconds.
“You’re a mother and you work here?” asked Vince.
“I have to pay the bills somehow. While this isn’t my dream job, the pay is better anything else I can get working at night. I just have to get my degree and I’ll be out of here.” She smiled, “Now can I get that number?”
Vince laughed, “You are definitely spunky.” He grabbed the business card and jotted a number on the back. “This way I know you won’t lose my number.”
Tory tucked the card back into her bustier. “Well that’s the last of my tables cleared. Time to head home to my sweet angel,” she smiled. “I’ll call you as soon as I press end with the mysterious SBW & Co., I promise.” She waved as she walked to the back, stopping by her locker to grab her street clothes before she headed to the restroom. She never came or left in the costumes mandated by the club; the idea of walking down the street with a black bustier and leather skirt wasn’t her idea of safe.
When Tory came out of the restroom, Destiny asked, “Hey, do you need a ride home?”
Tory smiled, “Thanks for the offer, but I’m just a few blocks from here.” Her apartment was close enough that by the time they got to their vehicle, she would be home. She waved to the remaining staff as she left the bar. The crisp, clean air blasted her senses and she closed her eyes as she drew in a deep breath to replace the stale air of the club.
“Miss Victoria Zelko,” said a deep voice. Tory turned and saw large, black-suited man standing just a few feet from her.
She fished in her bag, looking for the mace she kept since she walked home at night. Once she had her hand around the can, she said, “Yes, may I help you?”
“I assure you, there is no need for the pepper spray you are holding.”
Tory scoffed, “Yeah right. How did you know my name?”
“I have orders to take you to meet my employer. We can do this one of two ways. I hope you will comply and allow me to drive you willingly to meet with him.”
She said, “And I refuse?”
“Are you refusing?”
“Why does your employer want to meet me?”
“I am not privy to that information. I will assure you that no harm will come to you.”
Tory laughed, “I don’t know you well enough to know if I can trust your word.”
“Hank, would it be alright if I accompanied Miss Zelko,” asked a familiar voice. Tory turned to see Vince standing a little behind her. He looked different, more professional with no leather anywhere she could see.
“I see no problem with that Mr. Langford. However, we do need to be going soon as you know Mr. Smith does not like to be kept waiting.”
Tory stared at Vince. “So I take you two know each other? Care to let me in on the secret?”
Vince shook his head, “I can’t tell you and unfortunately neither can Hank. You’ll just have to trust me and get into the car.”
“What about my daughter?”
Hank said, “Miss Zelko, the longer we stand here and discuss this, the longer until you can be home with young Emily.” A chill ran through her, they knew her daughter’s name. If
Vince said, “Please Tory, I promise you will be home before the sun rises. If you want, once we are in the car you can call your babysitter to let them know you will be home just a little later.”
Tory said, “If I refuse?”
Hank said, “Please don’t make me go there Miss Zelko. I don’t like violence.”
She felt a tug on her hand and Vince leaned down, “Tory, I promise that you are in no danger. I couldn’t tell you earlier, but the gentleman earlier told me that there would be a car waiting for you.”
Tory said, “Why can’t I just call them tomorrow morning?”
Hank cleared his throat and said, “Mr. Smith does not keep normal banking hours.” Tory watched as Vince walked to the open door and then looked back at her. She didn’t like this, not one bit. Shiloh knew what time she should be home and always worried when she was just a few minutes late. She looked between Vince and Hank, weighing her options. She was a decent runner, but from the muscles the two men were sporting, she guessed she wouldn’t make it very far.
She sighed. She didn’t see a way out of this. She looked at Vince, “If anything happens to me, I will personally come back to haunt you for the rest of your life and I will tell everyone at the bar that you are a nana’s boy.”
Vince grinned, “Deal. Now, come and get in because I know Hank has a schedule to follow.”
Tory shuffled over to the car and climbed in beside Vince. She pulled her phone from her bag and pressed the number for Shiloh.
“Hey you, everything okay?”
Tory said, “Yes and no. I am fine, but I am not coming home right away.”
“Oh,” Shiloh asked. “Did you finally meet someone?”
Tory sighed. Her friend kept trying to get her to get out and meet new people, but she just didn’t see guys that way. She didn’t understand it at all. She said, “Not exactly. I will be home as soon as I can.”
“Okay, well call if you need me.”
“Thanks gal. How is Em?”
“Finally went to sleep about an hour ago. She really wanted to see you when you came home, but exhaustion won.”
“Thanks for taking such good care of her. I’ll see you later.”
Vince said, “Everything good at home?”
“Yeah,” Tory put her phone back into her purse and checked to make sure her pepper spray was still within reach too.
“How old is your daughter?”
Tory smiled, “Three going on ten. I swear she’s so much more mature than others are. She fits in better with the six-year-olds, physically and intellectually.” She saw the vague illumination of the street lights fade as she felt the car descend. “Anyone care to tell me where we are going?”
Vince said, “Underground.”
She folded her arms across her chest, “Are you always such a smart ass?”
Vince said, “Happy to be of service.”
The car came to a stop and she pulled on the handle. She whipped around and stared at Vince, “Why isn’t this door opening? Am I a prisoner now?”
The door opened and Hank said, “No, Miss Zelko you are not. In fact, let me apologize for my threats earlier. Please understand I don’t usually have clientele as nice as you.”
Tory stormed out of the back seat, glared up at him and growled, “Maybe you should get a different job.” She stared a moment more and then said, “Now, I believe you said this Mr. Smith has a schedule to keep. Shouldn’t we get going?”
“Unfortunately, this is as far as Vince can go.” He looked at Vince, “You understand, right man?”
Tory shook her head, “I’m not going in there by myself. Either he goes in with me, or you can just turn this boat around and take me home.”
Vince said, “Tory, you’ll be fine. I promise—“
“No. Either you come or we go.”
Hank pulled a cell phone out and made a quick call. Tory didn’t hear the conversation, but he put the phone back in his pocket and shut the door. “Mr. Smith agrees that Vince may come in with you. He understands that you are in the dark about why you are here.”