Alexei (Her Russian Protector #8)(4)

By: Roxie Rivera


“It’s okay.” I smiled at him and didn’t dwell on the stains. By the end of my cleaning shift, my pants would look much worse anyway. “Here. Let me fix your backpack.”

He sat still while I adjusted the straps on his bag. “Hey, Shay?”

“Yeah?” I fought with the too-tight buckle on the strap.

“Do you need wrapping paper or cookie dough?”

Not really, I thought, but I had a feeling I knew where this was going. “Maybe. Why?”

“We’re selling things for school. It starts on Monday. If I sell the most stuff in my grade, I get to ride in a limo and go to a pizza party!”

I was glad he couldn’t see my face as I fixed his backpack. The memories of being the only kid in school who had to explain why my fundraiser sheet had lots of entries but no money in the envelope made my stomach churn violently. The humiliation of having to admit that my mother had stolen the money to gamble still made my cheeks burn and my chest tighten.

“So do you want to see the order form?”

“Sure, but not tonight,” I replied, pushing aside those ugly memories of my dysfunctional childhood. “I’m headed to work. Why don’t you come see me tomorrow?”

“Okay.”

I finished adjusting his backpack and stepped away from him. “Stay on the sidewalk until you get home. Say hello to your mom for me.”

“I will.” He smiled that boyish gap-toothed grin of his and pedaled away down the sidewalk.

I watched him for a few seconds, just to make sure he kept off the street, and then turned toward the small building that housed the mailboxes and a community laundry room. I found only a handful of bills and the weekly batch of coupons and ads. I quickly sorted out the coupons I would use from the ones I wouldn’t and left the rest in the stack of glossy sheets on top of the mailboxes for someone else to use.

While ripping into the electricity bill, I headed out of the building and back toward our house. I grimaced at the amount due and wondered if Shannon would be able to help with her half this month. If I had to cover the entire amount, it was going to eat into my Christmas savings. It was hard not to be irritated with her about the bill when she was the one who left lights on and ran the ceiling fan in her bedroom when we weren’t home and kept the television in her room blaring all night long.

I glanced down at my pants and decided the muddy splotches were just too big to ignore. Even though I really didn’t have the time, I ran back inside the house and switched to a clean pair of uniform pants. While I locked the front door, I heard a vehicle pull up behind me but didn’t think much of it.

This was a busy street, especially with Mrs. Rodriguez and her big family a few houses down. Her older boys had friends over for dinner every single day. How she could afford to feed a dozen hungry mouths every night I would never understand but she did it and always with smile on her face. There had been many, many times over the years when my hungry belly had been filled by her kindness.

“Shannon Mitchell?”

I whirled around at the unknown male voice that called my sister’s name. Three men I had never seen before were standing in front of a double cab black truck. I didn’t like the look of them—or the tattoos I could see from this distance. I gulped nervously at the sight of all that ugly white supremacist ink. There weren’t many things that scared me but as a dark-skinned Latina girl? Facing off with these three monsters had my knees knocking together.

The tallest of the three stepped forward. He had meaty arms and massive hands that I was sure had done a lot of dirty, mean things. “Are you Shannon Mitchell?”

I managed not to jump when he barked at me. “No.”

“So you’re the little sister then, huh? Shay, right?”

I nodded silently. What the hell were these men doing here? Why were they looking for my sister? Shannon, what have you done now?

Before I could muster the courage to ask what these guys wanted with my sister, the roar of motorcycles barreling down our street drew my attention. Normally, I tried to steer clear of the motorcycle gang that our landlord, Spider, ran with but today? Today I wanted to drop to my knees and thank the heavens for the small crew of rough, leather-clad men riding to my rescue.

Spider killed his bike first, popped the kickstand and slowly slung his leg over the seat. He had recently cut his hair and somehow it made the Calaveras MC Vice-President look even scarier. The neighborhood had become so quiet as people watched the faceoff in my front yard. I could hear the leather of his vest creaking as he moved. His heavy boots crunched grass as he took deliberate steps between me and those terrifying men. “You boys lost?”

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