Lowlander Silverback(2)

By: T. S. Joyce


“I didn’t say he wasn’t a shifter, just that I don’t think he’s a bear like the others. Why wouldn’t he have registered with the rest of them?”

Layla shrugged. “I don’t know. Lots of reasons. For example, the government is full of shit for making them register in the first place, and maybe it’s his way of saying ‘Damn the man.’”

“You ever heard him growl like the others?”

That drew her up short. She sank onto the cracked leather office chair and shook her head. Nope. Never. Huh. She’d thought she was crushing hard on a grizzly shifter all this time, but perhaps Jake was right. The mysteries surrounding Kong grew by another layer as she lifted her gaze to his picture again. In it, he was sitting between his two crew members, eyes dead-looking. Jake’s relentless autograph-seeking did that to some of the dominant ones. Pissed them off. Not that Jake noticed or cared. Kong’s angry photo with his crew was one of Jake’s favorites, as highlighted by the prime spot on his wall. Right under a single spotlight, front and center.

“All right, so will you include Kong’s crew on Shifter Night?”

“Not until he registers. Or no! Not until he pulls his weight and fucks a couple of groupies.”

“Jake!”

“What? They are the honey attracting the bees, Layla. And from what I’ve seen, Kong hasn’t taken a single girl home. When he dips his toe into helping me bring in customers, he can have all the free booze he wants. Oh! Could you tell him that? Here.” Jake ripped bright pink and neon green flyers off the top of the stack and shoved them into her hands with the one she already held. “Tell his crew our plans and explain why they need to get their dicks wet.”

“Oh my gosh, Jake, no.” Layla shook her head and headed for the door, clutching the flyers. “If they aren’t chasing women, it’s because they don’t want wives or mates or whatever they call it when they pair up.” And she wasn’t encouraging Kong to screw groupies, nope, nope, nope.

“I’ll give you twenty bucks on top of your tips tonight.”

Layla halted her retreat, her back to him. Double damn, she’d almost made it to the door.

“I know you need the money for Mac. Just talk to them subtly, explain there’s free weekly booze in it for them, and let them make the decision to participate on their own. You don’t even have to do a hard sell. I mean, shit, it’s free booze and pussy. What are they going to say? No?” Jake let off a single, loud laugh.

“Why can’t you talk to them about it?” she asked, turning slowly.

“Because I don’t have those.” He looked pointedly at her boobs and arched his eyebrows. “They’ll listen to you over me any day. Thirty bucks.”

Layla let off a growl and muttered, “Fine. Thirty bucks.”

The nerves hit in the hallway. She was going to talk to Kong, on purpose. And not just to get his drink order. She pressed her back against the wood paneling in the hallway and closed her eyes tightly. Gah, she was an easy mark. All Jake had to do was wave a few ten dollar bills in her face and she was asking how high he wanted her to jump. Her self-respect was swirling the toilet right now.

Pursing her lips, Layla pushed off the wall and strode into the main room of Sammy’s, her boots making sticky sounds across the floor. She mopped the damned thing every night, but the townies couldn’t seem to go ten minutes without party-fouling and sloshing their drinks everywhere.

As she made her way behind the bar, she smiled politely at Jackson, who untied his apron and shoved a wad of tips in his pocket as he passed. It looked like mostly one dollar bills, which meant the mid-day shift must’ve been slow. One look behind the bar, and she puffed air out her cheeks and tried to figure out where to begin. Jackson was nice and was good with the customers, but holy moose patties, he was the biggest slob she’d ever encountered. Maybe all bachelors were like that. No, Mac had never been a slob, and his wife had died years ago. Perhaps it was different with widowers than bachelors, though.

“Hellooo,” Barney sang out. “I’ve been waiting ten minutes for you to come and refill my drink.”

Barney was a regular, and he was also a steady source of headache material. Lucky for him, she was a pro. “Why didn’t you have Jackson refill you, Barney?”

“Because,” he slurred as she refilled his whiskey and coke, “Jackson don’t do nothin’ for my boner.”

“Charming. There you go. Just give me a holler when you need another. You want me to turn the volume up?” She pointed to the television above the bar and waited with the sweetest smile she could manage over her gritted teeth. Barney liked sports, and turning up the volume was the quickest way to get his attention off her.

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