Max's Redemption(2)

By: L. Wilder

“I’m doing the best I can.”

“No, Frankie, you’re not,” I corrected him. “And if you don’t pull your head out of your ass and start doing things the right way, this whole thing is going to blow up in your face. You won’t just lose the business, Frankie, you’ll lose your fucking head.”

I stood up and started for the door, but before I walked out, Frankie said, “I don’t want to fuck it all up.”

Without stopping, I replied, “Then don’t.”

By the time I made it to my car, I had three messages on my phone from Ryder, our lead handler. Knowing that was never a good sign, I let out an aggravated breath and listened to Ryder’s panicked voice rattling on about getting pulled over by a cop. Normally he worked with Bennett. Together, they handled all of our overseas deliveries through our logging business, but when Nitro was asked to do an impromptu shipment for one of our biggest customers, he’d sent Ryder to deliver it to Texas. While he denied that he wasn’t, he’d been pulled over for speeding. On any other day, it wouldn’t have been a big deal. Truckers get pulled over all the time, but this cop had a point to prove and was insisting on checking his load. Ryder was pissed. He was late and eager to get to the meet, which I could only assume made the cop more suspicious.

I dialed his number and as soon as he answered, I said, “Breathe, Ryder. I’ll take care of it.”

“Deputy Fife over here has a real fucking attitude, man. It’s taking all I’ve got not to punch him in the damn throat.”

I could hear the irritation in his voice and knew he meant every word. “You need to take a step back and let me handle this. Flying off the deep end isn’t going to help anything.”

“I hear ya, but damn. This motherfucker has it coming.”

“Don’t do anything stupid. I just need five minutes.”

“Make it three,” his voice clipped before he hung up the phone.

I called in a favor and managed to get Ryder back on the road. I’d like to say that things settled down after that, but they didn’t—not in the least. I spent the entire day putting out fires, and by the time I’d made it to the West End Bar and Grill, it was after ten. Picking up Tristen, Nitro’s fiancée, was one of my daily obligations, but I didn’t think of it as work. Over the past few months we’d become pretty good friends; hearing about her day was something I’d come to look forward to.

Normally, the place was busting at the seams, but as I walked over to the bar, I was relieved to see that it wasn’t too crowded. As soon as I sat down, Tristen came over to me with a confused look. “You’re here early.”

“I need a cold beer and a burger.”

“It’s been one of those days, huh?” She reached for a chilled mug and filled it with my favorite IPA. “Give me a second, and I’ll put your order in.”

I watched as she went over to the kitchen window, and when she returned, I asked, “Have you had a good night?”

“Pretty good. It’s been a little slow, so it’s an easy night.”

She was practically beaming as she spoke, so I knew there was something she was dying to tell me. I motioned my hand towards her face as I pushed, “What’s with that look?”

“I made an A on that paper I was telling you about.”

“The one you thought you tanked?”

“Yep. The professor even mentioned me during class. He said he was impressed. I can’t believe Mr. Grumpypants was actually impressed with me !”

“He’s a smart man. Knows a good thing when he sees it.”

“I couldn’t believe it. I’ve never had someone say something like that about my work.”

She spent the next few minutes giving me the rundown of her paper and highlighting what her professor liked about it. As she talked, I could feel the tension of my day start to fade, and by the time my burger arrived, I was pretty relaxed. That quickly changed when I heard, “Max?”

Without turning around, I knew who was standing behind me. It was a voice that made every muscle in my body stiffen like I’d been jabbed with a hot poker. I hadn’t heard her voice in years—over ten years to be exact, and just the sound of it made my world come to a screeching halt. Even after all these years, I still wasn’t prepared to see her. She came with too many memories, too much heartbreak; but there she was, just inches away. I glimpsed over my shoulder and my heart stopped cold when I saw her gorgeous, blue eyes staring right at me.

“I can’t believe it’s really you.”

She’d grown up. The young girl I’d once known had grown into a beautiful woman. Her dark hair was long with curls that cradled her heart-shaped face, and her lips were full and delicate like a peach. My eyes drifted down her body, slowly taking in the curves of her breasts and hips, and after just a heartbeat of a glance, I forced myself to look back up at her face. The sight of her would bring any man to his knees, but for me, seeing her made my blood run cold. She stood there waiting for an explanation of my whereabouts for the past ten years, but with all the thoughts racing through my head, I could only manage to mumble, “Harper .”

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