He seems almost excited by the pieces he thinks he’s putting together. “That big prick out on the sidewalk. He’s there for you, isn’t he?”

I scratch my eyebrow. “Um…no?”

His laugh is derisive. “You must be some lay if McManus himself is coming here to tap you. To put one of his goons on protection duty. And pay this much for a ride of that—”

“Watch yourself,” I interrupt, shaking. “You don’t get to talk to me like that. I’m a certified massage therapist. I have this job because I’m amazing at what I do.”

“Amazingly arrogant.”

I shrug one shoulder. “Confidence isn’t a crime.”

His upper lip curls, like he’s going to insult me, but he changes tack instead. I back up as he saunters forward, blatantly checking me out in a way that makes me wish for a steaming hot shower. “All right, honey. I’ll let you continue this little fuck for cash operation in my spa, but I want something out of the deal.”

My back flattens on the wall and a shiver of nervousness courses through me. “There is no deal.”

“Don’t lie to me.” He reaches a hand toward my breast and I smack it away. “Come on, Meadow. I’ll let you service McManus on my massage tables and you let me sample the goods, whenever I feel like it.” His features arrange in a resentful smirk. “Why should he get something I can’t have? He’s not better than me.”

“Don’t come any closer,” I whisper, wishing like hell my muscles were as big as my temper, so I could body slam this jerk. But alas, he has a few inches on me and several pounds, though his body is soft, where Walker’s is hard. I’m still not sure I could fight off my boss. We’re halfway through the hour, so no one will emerge from the massage rooms for another thirty minutes. I should scream for help. I know I should, but I will get fired. And I don’t want to lose this job.

For all Randall’s disgusting qualities, he’s tenacious. I know he won’t rest until he bad mouths me to every spa in Boston. My résumé won’t be considered anywhere if I get fired from my first job after three weeks.

I think of Walker. He would help me.

But do I want that help? Do I want to rely on this man I’ve just met when I’ve worked so hard to rely on no one but myself?

There’s the check, of course. That kind of money would carry me quite a way until I could figure out my next move. Maybe I could even open my own massage studio. I don’t know anything about running a business, but I can learn.

He mistakes my calm for resignation. “What’s it going to be, Meadow?”

I knee him in the junk. Hard enough that his eyes bulge out and he doubles forward. “Son of a bitch,” he wheezes.

I try to snatch the check out of his hand, but he rips it to shreds.

“No,” I gasp, falling to my knees, trying to rake up the check with trembling fingers. “You didn’t. You didn’t.”

Randall twists an angry fist in my collar and yanks me to my feet, slamming me up against the wall. Lights blink in front of my eyes. “Oh, you’re definitely giving it up now, bitch—”

Loud footsteps and the sound of a gun cocking cut off whatever Randall is going to say next. His body turns slightly and I can see my bodyguard looming behind him, blocking out all the light in the hallway. Carla peeks in from the receptionist area and I know in my bones she’s the one who alerted my savior.

“Hands off the girl,” my bodyguard booms, shaking his head. “You just made a big mistake, asshole.”

I’m not sticking around to witness the fallout.

The fight or flight adrenaline is slowly draining, leaving nothing but shocked anger. This whole situation was wrought by my bad decision.

And that bad decision was Walker McManus.

Pushing to my feet shakily, I quickly retrieve my purse from the locked cabinet in my massage room and wheel back into the hallway, vaulting over his prone form.

“Hold on, now,” the bodyguard says, sounding nervous. “I’m going to need you to stay put, miss.”

“Sorry, no can do.” I swipe at the embarrassing moisture forming in my eyes. “I’m out. And please tell Mr. Walker I mean that in every sense. I’m out.”

“You’re also fired!” Randall shouts at me as I exit, turning quickly at the sidewalk and hurrying toward a shortcut through an ice cream shop’s back exit, in case the bodyguard is on my trail. I make it home within ten minutes and throw myself face down on my twin bed.

I can’t believe I let this happen.

I can’t believe I escaped a life of nonstop trouble and struggling only to throw myself right back into the ring.

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