Authors: Ellie Danes,Lily Knight
(A New Billionaire Romance)
First Edition, June 2016
Copyright © 2016 by Ellie Danes, Lily Knight
This book is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is entirely coincidental. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events and situations are the product of the author's imagination.
All rights reserved. No parts of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without written consent from the author.
This book is available exclusively on Amazon.com. If you found this book for free or from a site other than Amazon.com country specific Amazon websites it means the author was not compensated for this book and you have likely obtained this book through an unapproved distribution channel.
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Table of Contents
“Seventy-eight, seventy-nine, eighty.”
I looked down at the small mound of money on the table in front of me and sighed, checking the envelope again to make sure I hadn’t missed any. Nope. No money hiding in the crevices. I placed the envelope on the table and looked around the apartment. Hard to believe we paid almost eight hundred dollars a month to stay here. It was, well, a dump of a place — water-stained walls and cracks slowly creeping through the peeling paint, giving the feeling that the building might not be so structurally sound. All in all, it was fairly typical of the apartments in our East Atlanta neighborhood.
A few years ago, the owner of the building was forced to address some of the building’s issues, but he only patched up what was on the outside, never even bothering to actually look in the small, cramped apartments. As a result, I had two different colored walls and a great deal of spackled holes in my bedroom. Every night, I fell asleep hoping the ceiling wouldn’t cave in on me in the middle of the night.
I stared down at my tidy little piles of cash on the table. Just like every month, I had placed all of the money into neat piles to begin the arduous task of plotting out the month’s funds. One for rent, the other for utilities, and then finally a third for food and any other necessities. This month, that pile was lighter, and I was short twenty dollars, no matter how many times I counted it. I didn’t know what had happened to cause that.
I looked over the calendar and reviewed the work week, seeing if there was any place I could fit in another shift. Right now, it wasn’t looking too hot for me. As it was, my schedule only allowed about five hours of solid sleep a night between the two jobs I currently held down — nighttime bartender and daytime custodian at a local elementary school. It definitely wasn’t how I pictured my life would be at twenty-six years old.
“Cooper? Do you know where the coffee is?”
“It should be in the cabinet, Mom,” I replied, gathering the money and putting it back in the envelope. I didn’t like for her to see how low on funds we were. She would want to take some shortcuts with her medications, and of all the things we needed month-to-month, I would gladly give it all up to make sure she had her meds.
Stuffing the envelope back into my book bag, I walked into the tiny kitchen, finding my mom searching through the cabinets. At fifty-five years old, Gillian Randall could easily pass for a woman in her early forties, her brown hair barely sprinkled with gray. My mom was the only person in my life that I would die for. She had raised a son on her own and ensured that I had the best life that she could offer after her husband walked out on her for another woman. Every day she left the apartment and took the bus downtown, where she worked in one of the only clothing factories remaining in our town. I had watched her work her fingers to the bone without so much as a complaint. I would love to tell her to quit her job, but without her paycheck, we would be out on the street in no time flat. “Did you find it?” I asked her.
Her eyes sparkled with laughter as she held up the can that normally contained the coffee, turning it upside down so I could see that it was empty. “I found the can, not the coffee.”
Knowing that she had a late shift, I gave her a smile. “I can go get you some if you’d like.”
“Oh, Coop, that would be lovely,” she stated, using the nickname that I would only allow her to use. “You know the coffee keeps me awake.”
I stepped over and gave her a hug before walking out of the kitchen and reaching into the book bag for the envelope, pulling out only what I needed to buy the coffee. “I’ll be back in just a bit.”
“Be careful,” she called as I walked to the door and headed out, jogging down the worn, threadbare carpet toward the stairs. The elevator in the building worked when it wanted to, and I had learned long ago to just take the stairs if I wanted to avoid getting stuck in the tin can for hours. I walked down the three flights and exited the building, tucking my hands in my pockets as I tried to figure out what to do. Mom’s coffee was at the easily accessible convenience store around the corner, but recent events had made me less than welcome there.
Just a few days earlier, I had been on my way home from my janitorial job when I ran into Felix, a childhood friend of mine from the neighborhood. We visited the small store because Felix was craving a candy bar. All I did was walk into the store with him and next thing I knew, the manager was calling Felix a thief and kicking us both out. Turns out Felix had snatched his candy bar, but had tried to walk out with it instead of paying the eighty-five cents. As a result, we were both banned. Mom had always told me that Felix was going to get me in trouble someday and, though we had gone through a few scrapes as children, this was one that could have turned out much worse. It’s a known fact that particular store owner always has a gun behind the counter. I couldn’t afford to get shot or go to jail as an accomplice. I guess I was lucky he just banned us instead of calling the cops… or shooting.
So, there I was, needing coffee, but my only other option was to go downtown to the nearest food mart. That would be bus fair, and with the lack of money already, I would have to give up eating for about a week just to make ends meet. While most people didn’t think about how much a bus ticket or a cab fare cost, I couldn’t afford the added expense. It was like that for a lot of things. I didn’t own much in life that wasn’t either second hand or a pretty cheap version of the real thing. I frequented thrift stores when I absolutely needed something, but most of the time I could get away with a few holes in my clothes and my battered shoes. I’ve always tended to stay to myself mostly anyway.
I walked down the cracked sidewalk, sidestepping the holes in the concrete. This was a side of town that most people didn’t care to come to. In fact, visitors were very few and far between. I could easily walk down the street and recognize nearly everyone I passed. Maybe it was due to the fact that the stench of cigarette smoke and weed were a common odor in the wind. Most of the low-lying brick buildings were covered with graffiti of all kinds, from gang symbols to more colorful graffiti from those wanting to ‘express’ themselves. One summer, I remember there being a movement to try to beautify this section of town and some very brave — misguided, but brave — people had taken it upon themselves to try to rid the buildings of their colorful words and symbols. It hadn’t lasted long. For every building they cleaned up, another graffiti attack would happen somewhere else. Finally, they gave up and the blocks were once again taken over by the thugs, graffiti artists, gang members, and anyone else daring enough to believe they were someone important.
An ambulance siren wailed in the distance and I kicked at a rock, thinking it was far too common to hear sirens these days. Every day there was talk of gunfights, drug deals gone bad, turf infringement; you name it, we probably had it. For that reason, every night my mom wedged a chair under the doorjamb and I slept with a bat by my bed. Sure, I’d grown up here, knew just about everyone in the building, but people got desperate and there was no telling who would turn on you the moment they thought you could do something to benefit them. There was no loyalty, only self-preservation.
I sighed and headed toward the convenience store, knowing it was my better option. Perhaps the manager wouldn’t be there today, and I could do a quick in and out before the clerk even realized I had been there. Besides, a trip downtown and back would eat up about an hour of my day and possibly make me late for my evening job. So, the corner store it was.
“Hey, Cooper! Dude, slow down!”
I turned around to see Felix running toward me, trying to keep his pants up as he did. I have never understood the fascination of wearing pants three sizes too big for you, but, hey . . . to each his own, I guess. “Felix.”
Felix was the only guy in the neighborhood that I kept up with and, at one time, he was just like me, the product of a single, hardworking mom just trying to make something of himself. But times change. We were good friends once, experiencing life together and just trying to survive. After we had graduated high school, we both kept our noses clean for a while. Then Felix got mixed up in the gang activity and he changed. Now, what had once been his normally neat appearance had given way to a shaggy hairstyle and clothing that looked like it once belonged to Fat Albert, complete with fake gold chains and an ever present sideways ball cap. I thought he looked damned ridiculous.
“Where the hell you going?” he asked, falling into step with me as I continued down the street. I could smell the sharp tang of cigarette smoke, like he had been in a room clouded with it and fought the urge to put a few more feet between us.
“Getting some coffee from the Stop Mart for Mom,” I replied. “And if you are going to keep me company, you have got to stay on the down low. I don’t need a repeat performance of the other day.”
“I didn’t take nothing from him,” Felix said, holding up his hands with an innocent look on his face. I narrowed my gaze, and he gave me a grin. “Aw, man, okay, maybe I swiped something, but it wasn’t anything expensive. He shouldn’t have gotten all nutted up about it.”
“You shouldn’t have taken it, Felix,” I muttered as the store came into view. If he got me into trouble this time, I was going to be pissed. I couldn’t afford any type of trouble.
Felix grabbed my arm and stopped me in my tracks, assuming one of those stupid stances he had picked up from the street. “Call me F-bomb from now on.”