Lowlander Silverback(5)

By: T. S. Joyce

She tried to close the office door, but the foundation of Sammy’s wasn’t great, and the door was now off kilter by half an inch. It creaked back open as she hid in the corner beside the filing cabinet. She hated being talked down to like that. It wasn’t like this was a bar full of strangers. Rhett had embarrassed her in front of regulars and in front of the Beck Brothers. In front of her boss! She was trying to keep everything together in her personal life, and her one respite from the poop storm she was dealing with at home was this job where she could turn her mind off and just work. But being called names and getting publicly berated was just another hurt on top of a pile of shit right now.

Her phone rang from her purse, but she ignored it. It was probably another scam call. Hardly anyone had her number. She drew her knees up to her chest and rested her chin on them, staring at the wood grain of the wall. Her phone rang again, and she frowned. Two calls in a row was signature Mac. She scrambled for the drawer with her purse, dug out her cell phone, and accepted the call as fast as she could.

“Hello? Mac, are you okay?”

“Layla? Honey, I got a call earlier from one of the neighbors. She said there’s an eviction notice on the front door.”

Layla scooted back into her corner and shook her head in disbelief. “That can’t be. I just talked to the bank on Monday, and they said they were going to work with us. I got us an extension.”

“They’re going to take my home.”

“No. Mac, this has to be a mix-up or misunderstanding. I’ll go by after work and read the notice, and then I’ll come by and see you in the morning. I’ll bring you breakfast. What’s tomorrow? Breakfast casserole day? Gross. I’ll bring you bacon and those cheesy eggs you like. And we’ll figure this all out. I’ll call the bank, too. Mac, I won’t let you lose your home. I swear it.”

Over her cold and lifeless body was anyone going to take anything else away from the man who’d cared for her all these years.

“I got another check in the mail. Will that help?”

“Yes, of course it will. I’ll deposit it before my shift tomorrow, and I’ll make a house payment online, okay? We’ll figure this out. Stop worrying. Let me do that. You just focus on getting better. I need my scrabble partner back.”

Mac chuckled, but it turned into a fit of coughing. “Layla, honey,” he wheezed out when he could. “It’s okay if we lose it.”

“Mac, we won’t. I promise. I’m at work making us more money to pay the bank right now.”

“Okay, honey. I’ll see you in the morning. Extra crispy.”

Layla smiled emotionally. “Extra crispy bacon. I’d never forget.”

With another layer of stress added to her shoulders, she hung up and muttered a curse. Stupid bank had promised to work with her, especially since she was trying to make up for missed payments. But juggling Mac’s hospice bills from Tender Care and her own rent and the mortgage payments on the old house he’d shared with his late wife, she was falling behind on everything. Failing at everything.

A tear slipped to her cheek, and she wiped it off with her knuckles.

“I came to apologize for my crew’s behavior,” Kong said.

A scream clawed its way up the back of her throat as she startled hard against the space she’d shoved herself into. “Geez,” she said, clutching her chest, “I didn’t see you there.”

Kong was leaning on the desk, arms locked and triceps flexed as he gripped the edge of the dinged-up oak. “You can’t talk to me anymore.”

Layla pulled her knees back up to her chest, squeezed her eyes tightly closed and nodded. This day just kept getting better and better. “Great. Hint taken.”

Kong’s dark eyes drifted to the door, and he lowered his voice. “It’s not safe.”

She jerked her gaze to his. “What?”

He shot her a warning look. “Don’t approach me anymore. Never again.”

She wiped another tear and nodded her head. “Okay.”

Kong pushed off the desk to leave but turned and strode to her instead, blocking her into the corner. He yanked her arm until she was standing and pulled her against him. He hugged her so hard, her breath left her. “I’m sorry about whatever is happening. When you were on the phone, I heard… I’m sorry.” His hands gripped her hair too tight before he released her. His dark gaze dropped to the floor, and he looked sick when he repeated, “Never again.”

Then he strode out of the office, leaving Layla staring after him and wondering if she’d just dreamed what had happened here.

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