Alexei (Her Russian Protector #8)(3)

By: Roxie Rivera

“Shay,” she said with an exasperated exhale. “I’ve got this figured out, okay? Now are you going to loan me the money or not? I’ll pay you back next week.”

Experience had taught me that she wasn’t going to listen to anything I had to say. I rose out of my chair, crossed my room to my purse and retrieved my wallet. I tugged the three crisply folded hundred dollar bills I kept tucked into a card slot and handed it to her. “Here.”

“Thank you.” She took the money but held onto my hand a moment longer than I had expected. “I love you, Shay.”

Bewildered by her unexpected show of emotion, I smiled at her. “I love you, too, Shan.”

She stepped back and hovered in the doorway. “It’s going to be okay, Shay. Things are going to change for us in a big way. A really big and wonderful way.”

Before I could ask her what that meant, she flitted away and disappeared. I decided not to chase after her for more information. Knowing her history, whatever scheme for fast cash she had planned would fizzle and burn. I just hoped that she wouldn’t drag me into this one.

I cleaned up my workstation and tried not to think about how far behind I was going to be on getting this purse and wallet order finished. Although I wanted nothing more than to focus on growing my handbag and wallet business from its online presence to a real brick-and-mortar store, I had to focus on paying the bills and saving up for a proper expansion first. I probably could have gotten a small business loan or tried to shoestring my plans on credit cards but the idea of debt had always made me nervous.

While I was pulling on a clean uniform for the janitorial company where we worked, I heard the front door open and close. The loud thumping bass of reggaeton music from our short driveway rattled the windows as Ruben’s new and very shiny SUV idled in front of our single-wide mobile home. I tried not to think about all the danger Shannon was in every time she went somewhere with Ruben but I couldn’t just flip off that switch from caring to not caring. She was my big sister and I loved her and desperately wanted her to make better choices.

But I also had to acknowledge that what I considered a simple, black and white decision wasn’t so simple for Shannon. She had been in love with Ruben since they were both young teenagers. I could still remember the giggly fourteen-year-old version of my sister confessing to me that she loved Ruben after sneaking back into our house from a party.

Back then, he had been flirting with the idea of jumping into the Hermanos street gang. It wasn’t long before he made the commitment and started rising through the ranks of dealers who helped push the cartel’s products onto Houston’s streets. Shannon had walked away from Ruben for a short time after our mom bailed on us but that separation hadn’t lasted long. Four months later, they were back together.

Convincing her to give up on the man she had loved for twelve years? It wasn’t going to happen. For better or worse, she had committed herself to Ruben and the dangerous life he lived. I loved my sister and didn’t want to lose her so I had been forced to accept Ruben wasn’t going anywhere. I didn’t like it, and I worried that he was going to get her in so much trouble, but she was an adult who could make her own choices.

Dressed in my pink scrub-style uniform and comfortable but ugly white shoes, I grabbed a light jacket and my purse before locking up and leaving the house. I had some time before I needed to leave so I decided to check the mail. It was a short walk across the trailer park to the community center where the mailboxes were located. I slipped into my jacket as I crossed the street, careful to avoid the puddles filling the potholes in the craggy pavement.

“Hey, Shay!” Little Homer Rodriguez peddled his short, chubby legs as fast as they would go as he whizzed toward me on the hand-me-down bike that had once been belonged to his older brothers. He rode his bike dangerously close to the middle of the road, and it made me nervous. It was getting dark, and the street lights in our park were so dim. The oilfield guys who lived along this street would start racing down this street soon. Tired from long shifts, they might not see him until it was too late.

“Homer! Dude, get out of the street!” I waved him over to the broken sidewalk. “Your mom is going to flip her lid if she sees you riding in the road like that.”

He took my warning to heart and angled his bike toward the side of the raod. His heavy backpack sagged down too low and threw off his balance as he hit a pothole. He splashed my pants with muddy water. “Oh man! I’m sorry, Shay.”

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