Lowlander Silverback(8)

By: T. S. Joyce


“Me, too,” Brighton whispered.

“We’ve known you for a long time, and you were awesome to us when we came out to the public. It didn’t get by us that you were a big part of integrating us into Saratoga. You fought for us to keep playing our gigs, and you fought against the town vote to keep us out of the bar. So I’m going to give you a bit of advice.” He inhaled deeply and leveled her a look as he leaned over the bar. “That one ain’t for you or any other woman in this town. He’s already claimed.”

Her breath caught in her throat as something green curdled her stomach. “By who?”

“His people.” Denison leaned back on his barstool and took another bite. “If it’s a shifter you want, Layla, you’ll have to go after a Boarlander.”

“Denison, you know me better than that. I’m not a groupie.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “It’s not his animal side I’m interested in.”

Sadness pooled in Brighton’s green eyes, and he lifted the corner of his mouth in a sympathetic smile. “It would be different if he was like us.”

“Brighton,” Denison warned.

The twins went back to finishing up their food, and Layla counted down her drawer in a daze. The bar was a ghost town by the time the Beck Brothers started packing their guitars into hard cases and coiling the sound system wires neatly to prepare for next week’s show. They were much tidier than Jackson. Barney paid in cash, and just like every other night, Layla called his brother to come pick him up so he wouldn’t drive home sloshed. And when she turned from the phone on the wall, Kong was there, eyes lightened to a muddy green color and wariness etched into every facet of his face.

His lips were set in a grim line as he leaned against the bar top. “I need to close out our tab.”

“Oh. Right.” He wasn’t there to share another unforgettable moment like earlier. This was business. She grabbed his credit card, charged it, and printed out a receipt.

He lifted a brief flicker of a gaze to her, then signed the receipt with a pen she’d slid toward him.

“So,” she said nervously. “The show was good tonight.” She kicked herself for her lame conversation skills. She could talk to anyone other than Kong—the one who mattered the most.

Kong gave her a warning glare, then slammed the pen down and turned for the door. “Let’s go,” he clipped out to his crew, who were watching them from beside the pool table.

“Have a good night,” she called.

Rhett turned around right before he walked out the exit behind the others and threw her a hate-filled glare. What had she ever done to him?

Baffled, she yanked the receipt off the counter and turned to the computer to enter in the tip.

$500.

Layla blinked slowly to ward off the hallucination, but nope, it was still there. In the tip field, Kong had definitely and clearly scribbled in $500, then added it to the twenty-seven dollar bar tab on the total line.

“Wait, what?” she murmured, lifting her frown to the door where Kong had disappeared. Why the hell would he give her such a ridiculous tip?

“Holy shit,” Jake said from over her shoulder. He plucked the receipt from her limp grasp. “I think that’s a new record.”

“I’m so confused. He never even talks to me,” she murmured.

“Maybe he just has money to burn,” Jake said in a stunned tone.

“I can’t accept this.”

“You have to. He already left, and I can’t keep it in our books. The paperwork won’t match up. Damn, Layla, looks like you just had your biggest night.”

“I’ll say. Six hundred thirty-seven dollars in one shift thanks to that tip and the thirty bucks you gave me for making a fool of myself. That will pay more than half of Mac’s mortgage.” But she couldn’t take it. She wasn’t some charity case, and she hadn’t earned this money. A tip, yeah. Five bucks. Maybe ten at the maximum if he was feeling generous. But five hundred dollars? That was insane and way too much. “Do you know where Kong lives?”

“Nobody knows where he lives. Even the bear crews are hard to find in Damon’s mountains. And besides, you shouldn’t be tracking him down to give him his money back. If he gave you this, it’s for a reason. Let him do something nice.”

“Jake, it’s too much, and it doesn’t feel right. I can’t keep this.”

Jake narrowed his eyes and sighed. “I forget what an Honest Annie you are. It’s annoying.”

“Jake, you know everything about the shifters. Where can I find him?”

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