Authors: Rebecca Royce
Only about a third of them actually attended the performances. The rest waited outside, no matter the weather—cold at the moment—for the chance to speak to him, get an autograph, or bask in his presence. For the first time ever, she resented them taking his time.
Teirney let some time pass to see if he would scurry away from them before she headed out onto the street to head home. The high of having gotten through the near disaster with the lighting cues fueled her. She was fast in her step and feeling like she could run a marathon if one should suddenly spontaneously take place. By the time she got home, however, she knew the up would have passed. Caring for her sick grandmother tended to kill the buzz from her days.
Ian was fully involved. Security surrounded him, a tribute to how many people there were on the street. The night before, he hadn’t needed any. She tugged her jacket closer and fished her gloves out of her pockets. With her head bent to avoid the wind, she hustled to the subway station.
Although she walked the same path every day—sometimes twice for matinees when she needed to check on Granny between shows—today she found it lonely. Ian had been so happy the entire ride. The novelty of the experience would wear off for him too, eventually. Still, she could always say she’d taken superstar Ian Mackenzie on his first subway ride.
Something to tell her kids someday.
If she ever had any. She shuddered at the thought of sticky fingers and missing shoes. When they had been giving out maternal instincts, they had forgotten to hand her some.
The ride was uneventful, and she walked to her Granny’s decrepit brownstone knowing exactly what the rest of her evening would look like. She would check on Granny and then crawl into bed and during the night get up to manage the older woman’s pain. Hospice was due later in the week. They’d probably be able to give her a better sense of things, of how much longer her Granny realistically had.
Tears she didn’t let fall clogged her throat. If she let herself go, they would never stop. Years of hidden frustration would be unleashed, and, in a time of her life, when she was dedicated to her Granny’s care, she didn’t need the emotional hangover bound to accompany such a display. There would be time for therapy later if she needed it.
She took the stairs with a heavier heart than she left work with and opened the door. Immediately, she came to an abrupt stop. Georgia was there, and standing next to her was a man she’d never seen before. Upon Teirney’s entrance, the man moved sharply to the left blocking the entrance to Granny’s hallway.
Teirney steeled herself. “What’s up?”
She spoke directly to Georgia. It was completely possible nothing bad was happening. But she didn’t enjoy coming home to find a strange person in the house. Georgia had been talking to him; she must know him, whoever he was. He was tall, black haired, and the visible skin on his arms was covered with tattoos. Some women would find him very handsome. Teirney had always preferred her men clean cut. Although, if Ian were inked, the look would probably work for her. Ian in a brown paper bag with his hair dyed green could get her hot.
“This is my boyfriend, Roman.”
Teirney stepped further into her house telling herself not to be afraid. The brownstone was her home. Georgia had wonderfully cared for her Granny for months. Just because this man’s—Roman’s—presence in the house disrupted her routine didn’t mean anything nefarious was happening.
She spoke again since they remained silent. “What’s going on? Everything okay?”
“Roman thinks you aren’t treating me correctly.” Georgia nodded toward the silent man.
“It’s nice to meet you, Roman.”
She still didn’t receive a response from the man. Could he not speak? Her blood pressure rose, and she could feel her fingertips tingle.
“He and I were talking,” Georgia continued, “and we think you should be able to pay me more. Considering how you keep really awful hours and how I can’t manage a day off ever.”
Her words weren’t exactly true. Georgia worked five nights with her grandmother and two days during the matinee hours. Another woman from who live around the street corner covered two other shifts. Nothing about the situation was ideal, but Teirney had to work and she would do anything to keep sweet Granny out of a hospice facility or a nursing home. All the old woman had wanted was to die in her bed. It seemed so little to give to the woman who had been the only affectionate parental figure in her entire life.
Georgia hadn’t objected to the hours when she applied for the job. Teirney had added no new requirements or responsibilities. It was only since Roman came into Georgia’s life that Georgia had begun expressing discontent and her attitude had changed, which was fine. Life altered. Well, for most people it did. Teirney worked hard to keep things as stable as possible.
“I see. I’m afraid I don’t have any more money to offer you.”
She could ask her parents for more, of course, but she hated doing so. The less contact she could have with the people who bred her, the better. Plus, she didn’t wish to negotiate money with the proverbial gun to her head—in this case Roman, whose body blocked the hallway to Granny’s room, had suddenly turned into a threat.
“You’re dating Ian Mackenzie. Ask him for the money.”
Her mouth dropped open. “I am not dating Ian. We work together.”
“You didn’t bring him here at one in the morning for nothing.” Had Georgia’s voice always been so irritating? “If he’s not your boyfriend, then you’re at least doing him. Ask him for the money.”
“Leave. You’re fired.” Her hands were shaking.
Georgia walked toward her and poked her in the arm. “I deserve a thousand dollars or Roman and I will tell the gossip columns how Ian spent the night here. They’ll be all over the street, hounding you day and night. Think your Granny can take the pressure?”
Teirney’s heart dropped. No, she didn’t. The poor wonderful woman did not deserve to have her last days disrupted by doorbells ringing and reporters camped outside of her door.
“A thousand dollars. This is extortion. It’s blackmail and it’s illegal. I’m calling the police.” She took out her phone.
Georgia must have realized what Teirney intended to do and she ripped the phone out of her hand. But Teirney had no intention of relinquishing the phone. Having never been in a physical altercation in her life, it took her ten seconds to realize she was embroiled in a fight.
By then she was rolling around on the floor, grasping for her phone as Georgia pulled her hair and slapped at her. Tears streamed from her eyes, and she didn’t try to stop them. At the present point, she simply didn’t want to be killed.
Whatever else happened, she couldn’t let them hurt her Granny.
“Okay, I’ll give you your thousand dollars. I don’t have it on me. I don’t keep that kind of cash in the house. We’ll have to go to the ATM machine. I don’t know if it’ll let me take one thousand dollars out all once.”
Georgia finally let go of Teirney’s hair.
“Then we’ll have to go to multiple machines. I’m glad you see it my way. And, I might need another thousand next week. Every week until sweet Granny dies.”
Ian’s voice booming through the room made her jump. Her heart was in her throat.
“She won’t be paying you anything. You can both run or you can find out why I was so consistently in trouble in school for fighting.” His gaze fell to her. “Are you okay, Teirney?”
“I’m not.” Her voice squeaked. “Ian, please don’t get hurt.”
“I’ve got it.”
Ian stared at the two bullies assaulting Teirney. Georgia had made the mistake of putting her hands on his sweet baby. He’d never harmed a woman and didn’t intend to now. Still, he had a stream of private investigators and lawyers who would make it their business to make sure this woman had a miserable life.
A bully was a bully was a bully.
He hadn’t heard everything they said to her, and he didn’t know how long it’d been happening, yet he had heard enough to take control of the situation.
Roman advanced on him. “You think you shouldn’t be afraid, pretty acting boy? I eat men stronger than you for—”
Ian didn’t give himself the chance to hear what the dipshit would have finished with. He’d been taking martial arts since he could walk. “You two need to walk away. I’d really rather not hurt you.”
“As if you could.”
Roman swung at Ian and he quickly ducked out of the way. “Back off, immediately.”
“Afraid to take a punch? Afraid I’ll break your pretty nose?”
Ian snorted. His nose had been broken and reset three times before he was fifteen. Boys from Texas didn’t run from a fight, especially not a good, worthy one. His mother had insisted on the martial arts training because Ian found so many causes worthy of a good pounding.
When Roman swung next, Ian blocked him with his elbow. The jar vibrated through his body but didn’t bother him. It might later. Injuries caught up with him days later. Having blocked with his left, he swung with his right.
Three hard jabs right into Roman’s nose and the doofus hit the ground in a puddle of blood and curses.
Ian stood over him, looking down. Teirney had risen at some point during the encounter and was staring at the fallen man with hooded eyes. He really couldn’t tell what she was thinking, not that he ever could usually. She was maybe the hardest woman to read he’d ever met. No matter. He was working it out.
“Are you two done? Need some more?”
Georgia raised her hand in the air and shrieked. A labored sound as if she had been assaulted herself. He shook his head. Some people had no backbone.
The shout must have awoken Teirney’s grandmother. Her garbled, strained shout of “Teirney” resonated in the living room. His sweet baby turned and ran down the hallway. He nodded. By the time she returned, all would be finished here.
Teirney’s former helper tugged at her boyfriend until he rose to his feet. When they were all at eye level again, Ian spoke.
“Here’s how tonight will work. You’re going to go and never darken Teirney’s doorstep again. Come by here again, speak to Teirney, bother her in any fashion, and my lawyers will make mincemeat out of you. I mean pain as you’ve never imagined. Tell anyone about our fight, and the lawsuit that follows will destroy your lives forever. You talk about me to the press? I’ll talk about them to you. Gee, I hope your families have never ever done anything illegal. They’ll be on the cover of every magazine in the English-speaking world.”
Georgia and Roman nodded simultaneously. Their response was good. He had their attention.
“Get out of here. No wait, Georgia, I’d guess you have a key. Give it to me.”
She dug into her pocket and placed it into his palm. Seconds later the two were out the door, and he had the pleasure of shutting it in their wake. He wanted to slam the door hard, but if Teirney was getting her Granny to sleep he didn’t want to rouse the old woman again.
With a quick turn, he locked the door—the lock was old; she really needed a new mechanism—and headed into the kitchen. Thank goodness he hadn’t delayed in coming right over. He’d considered having his driver stop for some takeout food first. He’d have been too late to help.
His mind returned to Georgia hurting Teirney. He clenched the kitchen counter hard, trying to vent some of his unused aggression. Punching Roman in the nose hadn’t been nearly satisfying enough.
He forced himself to breathe as he counted off his breaths in his head. Teirney was fine; her grandmother was safe. His aggression had to subside.
Nothing else to be done about it. He opened the freezer, not surprised to see stacks of neatly lined ice trays all filled waiting for him. Grabbing one of the trays, he dumped the cubes into a small bowl he found over the sink. Ian would have to remember to refill the tray later.
After wrapping some of the ice around his knuckles in a towel, he crept quietly down the hallway to the room where Teirney had run. The door was open. He didn’t want to intrude, yet he had to see her, make sure she was okay.
She’d been on the ground.
The old woman on the bed was hooked to an IV bag and a machine monitoring her vitals. The IV presumably gave her fluids and medicine she needed. The smell of antiseptic hit his nose. From what little he could see, the room was in neat order. Teirney’s Granny lay in the bed with her eyes closed.
Without getting closer, he couldn’t tell much of how she looked except she was clearly petite, similar to Teirney.
Teirney sat in a chair next to the bed, holding her hand. She hummed softly, not a song he recalled, but he liked how the music filled the room. He’d never had these kinds of times with his grandparents, and for the first time he was grateful for their sudden deaths. He hadn’t had to watch them suffer.
Teirney caught sight of him, then smiled. She released her grandmother’s hand after placing a small kiss on her cheek, then dimmed the lights and closed the door as she left.
Within a second, she took his good hand and walked with him to the living room.
“Thank you, Ian. I can’t tell you how much.”
He nodded. “I’m glad I arrived when I did.”
“She passed background checks, had references.”
Was she blaming herself for tonight’s craziness?
“Anyone can turn out to be a loon. We can only do as best as we can do.”
Teirney sighed. She had dark circles under her eyes, and her shoulders slumped slightly. “Thanks for saying that, although it’s not true.”
“It is.” He touched her cheek. “Don’t blame yourself for other people’s poor choices.”
“Usually, when I can plan things, take care of situations ahead of time, there aren’t these kinds of explosions.”
Between Roman, Georgia, and the lighting guy at work, she’d obviously had enough of today.
“Life has a way of doing crazy things to us sometimes. Catching us entirely off guard.”
Her eyes brightened. “Speaking off of guard, I’m not complaining or ungrateful, only what are you doing here? I wasn’t expecting you.”
“I wanted to talk.” Although the conversation he needed to have didn’t seem particularly apropos right then.