Jaimie knew she was fucked the minute all four sets of eyes snapped to glare at her. Swallowing roughly, she fisted her hands to keep them from trembling. She squared her shoulders, defiant and ready to take whatever came at her next. Her eyes flicked around the cavernous space of the abandoned warehouse that they were all standing in, her gaze landing on each man.
"Your bitch needs to learn her place, Sammy," Hector Gonzales said after a heavy pause, his eyes sliding to look at the man standing just to her left.
Sammy snorted in agreement, his dark eyes unreadable as they dragged over her. "She needs to shut the hell up," he added, his voice rough and gravelly from a lack of sleep.
Jaimie shifted her weight, leaning slightly away from Sammy now. One glance at his face and she knew he was furious. Well, so was she. Fifteen days of living in a crappy motel room, of constantly being on guard, and of being trapped into the role of a person she despised. She was tired, but knew the deception was necessary to do their job, her and Sammy both.
Fifteen freaking days she had been living with this cover—the sometimes junky girlfriend of Sammy Morrison, a low-life bookie who was looking to expand his business into fixed fights nationally. Sammy Morrison, who was actually Dean Bendis of the Los Angeles Police Department, was known for his aggressive behavior on the streets and in his business dealings. It was a quality that had endeared him to Hector, their mark.
Hector's right hand man, Ricky, stepped forward. His smile was cruel and toothy, like a shark going in for the kill. He cracked his knuckles against the open palm of his other hand. "Want me to teach her some manners for ya?"
Dean stiffened. The notice was subtle, almost imperceptible, but then again she was standing right beside him and could feel the tension rolling off him in waves. He relaxed the action almost instantly, giving Ricky, Hector, and Hector's brother-in-law, Mikey, a lazy smile and keeping his cover intact.
"Naw, man," he said, shaking his head ruefully. "I'll talk to her about it later."
The edge in his tone and the gleam in his eye assured her she would in fact get an earful for injected her opinion in the conversation. She was there strictly in a supportive role capacity, and her verbal slip was unacceptable.
Hector's eyes narrowed, flicking from Dean to Jaimie and back to Dean where they stayed. "I think you need to handle it now, brother."
A muscle jumped in his jaw. "Thanks, but I handle my business in private," he said quietly, his tone calm and lethal at the same time.
Hector leaned back, folding his arms above a massive beer belly. His dark eyebrows slanted together in a line as he frowned. "You know, you can tell a lot about how a man does business by the way his girl behaves. Like if she runs her fucking mouth with no consequences, ya know? It tells me that man doesn't do good business neither. Tells me that man ain't someone I want to do business with. You get what I'm sayin'?"
Dean stared at the older man for a several beats before nodding once. "Yeah, I get ya."
Jaimie barely had time to brace herself before he turned sharply, impossibly fast, and his open hand connected with her cheek. The force of the impact threw her to the ground, onto her hands and knees.
"Shiiiit," Ricky drawled out with a chuckle.
She tasted copper in her mouth as blood seeped in. She forced herself to swallow the blood and saliva mixture instead of spitting it out the way she wanted. But that way would end with another slap, and her ears were still ringing from the first.
Dean bent down and grabbed her by the elbow, pulling her to her feet. He spun her around to look at him. She shrank in front of him, playing the part of the contrite girlfriend.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, unnerved at the fact that her voice was shaking as much as her knees were.
Something flashed in his eyes for a brief second before his gaze swept over her. He pushed her away from him.
"Wait for me in the car," he ordered, dismissing her. He turned around to face Hector, all smiles now.
"Not bad," Hector murmured appreciatively as Ricky laughed harder. Mikey stayed mute, watching the exchange impassively.
Jaimie started for the back door of the warehouse they were in, shoving hard against the metal door that lead outside when she reached it. The sudden burst of sunlight was staggering against the dimly lit, windowless room they had been in. She made it to the car and sank down into the seat, letting her eyes close and wishing like hell she had aspirin for raging headache that would be coming.
Time became irrelevant, and she might have even fallen asleep for a bit. The driver's side door suddenly opened and Dean got in, starting the engine and gunning it. The tires squealed in protest as they sped out of the parking lot, headed back in the direction of their motel.
Jaimie dared a look over at him, watching the way his fist tightened around the steering wheel. She took a deep breath. "I'm sorry."
He didn't glance at her. He turned his wrist, sharply steering them into an alleyway behind another abandoned warehouse. He threw the car into park and stared out at the cracked asphalt in front of them.
She twisted in her seat to face him, nervous. "Look, I didn't mean to—"
"Are you OK?" He asked the question so quietly she barely knew he was talking.
She hesitated, somewhat stunned he wasn't reaming her out for her slip up. The hesitation was enough to have him turning to face her. She was taken slightly aback by the hatred in his eyes.
Pure, unfiltered self-hatred.
"I'm OK," she assured him, smiling through the pain and not mentioning that she thought he might have cracked one of her teeth.
"I didn't … I mean …" Dean stumbled through the apology, unsure of what to say. As a general rule, he didn't apologize. Then again, as a general rule, he didn't go around hitting women either.
She laid a hand against his shoulder. "You did what you had to do," she answered simply. "Besides, I've been hit harder than that."
His eyes widened slightly.
She waved it off. "Don't worry about it, OK? I'm fine." She turned and looked back at the street. "We can go."
Jaimie was still waiting for him to put the car into drive when she felt him touch her jaw, trace the outline of it. She blinked once and looked back at him.
"It's bruising," he muttered darkly, disgusted.
She wasn't surprised. They had been sharing a motel room for over two weeks and she would be lying if she said she hadn't looked when he stepped out of the shower several times with nothing more than a thin towel slung low on his hips. His arms were roped with muscles, and she had felt the power of them in his slap.
She also knew he had reigned in the blow or she would probably be unconscious right now.
A bruise and a cracked tooth were minimal damage compared to what he could probably have done if he had really had a mind to.
"Dean, it's fine," she insisted, very much aware that his fingertips were still touching her face.
He swallowed hard and let his hand drop. "My dad … he used to hit my mom. I swore I'd never do that."
Jaimie winced at the revelation. "I'm sorry," she said lamely, realizing how insufficient those two words really were.
He snorted, shaking his head. "I hit you, and you apologize." He ran a hand over his head, dropping his head back and looking at the roof of the car.
"Hey," she snapped, reached up and taking his chin between her fingers. She forced him to look at her. "You didn't hit me; Sammy did. You were playing the part. It's your job."
He nodded slowly, but didn't look overly convinced. "I'm sorry," he managed finally.
Her eyebrows rose at the apology. In the few months they had been working together, she didn't think he knew how to apologize. It seemed to be a foreign concept to him.
Every time she thought she had Dean figured out, he turned around and surprised her.
"It's OK," she said again, this time finitely. "I'll just have to make sure I don't slip up like that again."
Any traces of apology suddenly evaporated and he scowled at her. "What the hell was that? Do you want to get us killed?"
Jaimie sighed and leaned back as he put the car in drive and started for the main road, still ranting at her. She shook her head slowly.
This was the Dean she knew.