"Just a sec," I told her. "I've got to finish this."

"Okay," Beth said. "I just thought you should check out Casey."


"Yeah. She's up in the cafe."

That snagged my attention. I finished up with the customer, telling him nicely that we couldn't accept books in this condition. Maybe if the alleged other books were in better shape, he could bring those in. He pouted and argued a bit before finally skulking off. I rolled my eyes once he was gone. One thing that never changed among humans: there were always those who wanted to get something for nothing. It was what kept hell in business.

I found Casey sitting in the cafe, drinking a glass of water. There were dark circles under her eyes, and she didn't display her usual care in makeup and hairstyling. She stared bleakly at the table, eyes dull and glazed over.

"Hey," I said gently, pulling up a chair across from her. "How's it going?"

After a moment's delay, she looked up, not really focusing on me. "Okay."

"You sure? You don't look so okay."

"Dunno." Her tone was flat, distracted. "I just had a late night, that's all. Sorry. Sorry I came in like this."

"No problem. I've had my share of crazy nights." The thing was, Casey didn't exactly look hung over. I mean, she definitely looked like she was recovering from something...but I couldn't put my finger on it. It was weird. "What'd you get into? A party?"

"Yeah. Doug's band had another one."

"Really." News to me. "Must have been pretty good."


"What do you mean? You were there."

Her brow furrowed, confusion glinting in her brown eyes. "I don't...really remember. Stupid, huh? I must have really been trashed. I remember...being with Alec. Then we left. We went somewhere. "

"You don't know?"

She looked upset and closed her eyes. "There was this big house, and...I don't know. I just...I just can't remember. I'm sorry, Georgina. I shouldn't have come in today, okay? Sorry."

"It's okay. So you have no idea what you did with him? Nothing at all?"

She shook her head. I shouldn't have kept pushing for details of an employee's personal life, but something here bothered me. It was more than my bias against Alec too. I remembered him pushing alcohol on women, his invitation to go somewhere "more intense." Casey's inability to remember what had happened with him smacked of date-rape drugs.

"Did Alec give you anything?"

For the first time in this conversation, her dull expression sharpened and looked alert. "I...no. No."

But she was lying. I could tell. Why? Fear of him? Embarrassment? I couldn't bring myself to question her anymore. She looked too miserable. I told her she should go home and get some rest; she didn't need much convincing.

I took her place at the registers, silently fuming at that jerk Alec. My anger was furthered by the fact that I could do nothing. Casey's life wasn't really my business, and without her admitting to anything, Alec stood blameless.

With Casey now gone, Paige out sick again, and Warren golfing in Florida, I felt relieved when Doug showed up. He looked as energetic as ever, so I hoped he could counter my plunging mood.

"I heard you had a party."

"Yup." He grinned, working the register next to mine. "I tried calling you, but you weren't home."

"Had a party of my own. Hey, did you notice anything weird with Casey and Alec last night?"

"Weird how? I mean, they seemed to be hitting it off."

"Nothing else?"

"Nope. Not that I saw. Why? Are you interested? He's a little young for you, but if you're into that, I can give you his phone number."


"Whoa," he suddenly exclaimed. "Check this action out."

He picked up one of the books his customer was paying for. It was a romance novel, emblazoned with a big chested man holding an equally big chested woman. Her neck was arched back, her lips open in a moan. And her dress was falling off.

"Bet there's some good shit in here. Nothing like some throbbing members and private time to get you off, eh?"

He winked at the customer, who turned crimson and didn't say anything. She handed over some cash and hurried away as fast as she could.

Aghast, I ignored the customers standing there and grabbed Doug's arm, jerking him away from the counter.

"What the hell was that?" I asked in a low, angry whisper.

He laughed loudly. "Oh come on, Kincaid. I was just having a little fun. Those romance novels always crack me up."

"You do not comment on customer purchases. Furthermore, you certainly don't swear in front of them."

"Basic training. I know all this."

"Yeah? Then act like it."

We stood there, both of us shocked at my tone. I didn't think I'd ever talked to Doug in such a reprimanding way. Certainly not here. We were both assistant managers, partners in crime. Our entire working relationship was one of lightheartedness and messing around.

"Fine," he said after a moment. "Whatever."

We went back to the registers, both of us pointedly ignoring the other. We worked without incident a while longer until I heard him say, "Man, this has to be rough. Hope it all works out."

Looking over, I saw his customer buying a book about STDs. Doug returned my gaze with a challenging look. I finished my own purchase and then put up a "register closed" sign. Finding Andy at the information desk, I told him to ask Doug to swap spots.

"Don't tell him I told you to."

Doug seemed safer helping customers find books, yet no matter where I was in the store, I could hear him. He spoke and laughed too loudly. Whenever I caught sight of him, he was always in motion - like he couldn't stay still. Once, he was - literally - juggling books for a customer. Another time, I saw him actually skipping as he led a customer over to the cooking section. I frowned, unsure what to do. His lively nature had been fun this last week, but he was pushing it now, and I wasn't entirely sure what my role should be in all of this.

"That redheaded girl said you're the manager here," a middle-aged woman suddenly said, approaching me as I rearranged a display.

"I'm an assistant manager," I told her. "What can I help you with?"

She pointed to the information desk. "That man was so rude to me. He helped me find some books, and then...he said..."

She couldn't finish, oscillating between anger and distress. I looked at what she held. Books on clinical depression. Lovely. At least it wasn't called Going Postal in an Insensitive Bookstore. I took a deep breath to steady myself and apologized profusely, promising I'd deal with it. I then walked her over to the head of the check-out line and told Andy to ring her books up for free. Warren never approved of that, but I didn't care at the moment.

I waited for Doug to finish with his customer and then pulled him aside once more. "We need to talk in the office."

He gave me a lopsided grin. Studying him, I saw his eyes glittering with a distracted fervor. "What for? Let's talk here. I've got customers to help, you know. Can't let this goddamned place go unattended."

I blanched at this, still forcing calm. We had a line of about four customers listening.

"No. Let's go in the back."

He rolled his eyes and threw a friendly arm around me. "Christ, you're uptight. What's this about?"

"You know what it's about," I returned, wiggling out from under the arm. "You're out of line today."

His smile fell. "No, you're out of line. What's with the attitude anyway? You can't talk to me like this."

He was still too loud. More people were stopping. "I can talk to you like this when you're acting like a jerk. You're upsetting customers. You're doing stuff that's completely inappropriate, and you know it."

"'Inappropriate?' Jesus Fucking Christ, Kincaid! You sound like Paige now. I'm having fun. Remember that? Remember when you and I used to do that around here back before you got this stick up your ass?"

We had a bona fide audience now. Customers and staff alike. Dead silence, save for the faint sounds of Vivaldi playing through the store's sound system.

"I mean," he continued, thriving on the attention, "where do you get off acting like this? Who put you in charge? You and I are the same rank, remember? It's like you get ten seconds of fame in Mortensen's story, and now you think you can put on airs. Why don't you go find him? Maybe if you got laid again, you'd stop being such a bitch."

Tags: Richelle Mead Georgina Kincaid Fantasy
Source: www.StudyNovels.com
Articles you may like