I'd been the only rider on the road for miles, a hundred miles at least, maybe two hundred. After a couple of hours of solitude, I'd begun to lose my sense of time and place. I felt completely alone in the world. Peaceful. If there was enough gas in my tank, I could ride like this forever, following the sun to the ocean. No worries, no jobs, no demands on my time. Just me, my bike and the road. The way it ought to be, in a perfect world.
But the world wasn't perfect, far from it. I squinted into the sunset as an outcrop of buildings appeared on the horizon. I recognized the water tower first, its bulbous metal tank perched a dozen yards above the ground, a black silhouette against the pink sunset. Something inside of me sighed. The ride was over. I had tonight to myself but tomorrow was another story. Tomorrow I had a job to do.
The water tower got closer, and the rest of the town began to come into focus. Little more than a small cobbling of low adobe buildings clustered around one main street, Medina looked like a sleepy backwoods hamlet. I stopped at the first light, putting my foot on the ground for the first time in hours. I had no idea how much drug traffic moved through this corner of New Mexico on a daily basis, but I knew it was significant. If it wasn't, I wouldn't be here.
I mulled my options. I could either head forward toward the strip of motels that lay along the highway like a string of abandoned litter or I could turn right and go to Juanita's, about a mile north. Her place was tucked out of sight, her business relying on word of mouth rather than drive-by traffic. I smiled, amused that I was considering altering my routine. After three days on the road, what I wanted most was a meal, a bath, a bed and a woman, in that order. Juanita's it was, as usual. I hit the throttle and turned right.
A couple of minutes later, I downshifted into the long driveway and frowned as I heard a strange sound coming from my bike. That was new. Fuck, the last thing I needed right now was for my bike to act up.
I killed the engine, eased off my helmet and ran my hand through my dirty hair. Maybe I'd take that bath first.
I turned. Juanita had heard me ride up. She was standing at the front door, her expression even more welcoming than usual.
"Hola, Juanita. Que pasa?" My Spanish was shit, but I liked to use what little I had.
"Nada, Eduardo. Nada." Juanita smiled at me indulgently. She liked me, or at least she liked my business. "It's good to see you, mi amigo."
"You, too." I stretched a little and began moving toward the door. Juanita looked me over. "You need a bath."
"Bueno. Come in." Juanita was a businesswoman first, an amiga second. She didn't ask me what brought me to town. She never did.
"You want to eat first?"
"No. I want a bath. And a drink."
"Si. Of course." The 'lobby' of Juanita's establishment was more of a living room. She gestured for me to sit on one of the several easy chairs grouped around a coffee table, but I was still getting my land legs back after the ride and shook my head. She nodded, then went to the curtained door that separated the living room from the rest of the building. I heard her say something rapidly in Spanish, and then she turned back to me with a smile.
"You can have the same room as last time. Business is slow this week." She poured me a drink from the small bar near the window. "Whiskey, si?"
"Si." I took the glass and downed it in one swallow. Juanita bought cheap liquor, but I didn't care. It washed down the dust. "Gracias."
"Your bath will be ready in a minute. Then I'll bring you dinner. Chile rellenos sound good?"
"Yours are the best, Juanita." It was true. In another world, Juanita would have been a running a five star restaurant, not a two star cathouse. I watched her attempt to suppress a smile. She knew it too.
She looked at the bottle of whiskey for a moment, then handed it to me. "On the house, for you, Eduardo."
"Gracias," I said in surprise. Juanita wasn't one to nickle and dime her customers, but she'd never thrown in a freebie before. Maybe she did like me.
"Don't get too excited, mi amigo. I've had to raise my prices a little, and I have a favor to ask you."
I smirked and lifted the bottle. Nothing was ever free. But I was curious what favor I could do for her, and wasn't automatically opposed to helping her out.
"I have a new girl for you, a gringa. Very pretty, you'll like her."
"What's the favor?"
"Be nice to her. You're always nice to my girls, but be extra nice with this one, si?" She looked at me for agreement and I nodded. "Her last customer was not so nice, and I don't want to lose her."
"Nice it is, Juanita." I poured myself another whiskey and tossed it back, this time not noticing the taste, just savoring the warmth as it hit my stomach, feeling my muscles begin to relax. I wanted to wash up, eat dinner and get this gringa into my bed where I would be nice, very nice indeed. "My bath ready?"
"Should be." She smiled and gestured with her head toward the doorway. "You know the way."
Half an hour later, I was scrubbed clean and eating my dinner in my room when I heard a soft knock.
"Come in." The door opened just enough for a slight figure to slip in. The girl closed the door behind her and stood there, her hands still on the knob behind her back. I didn't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't this. She was a thin little thing, wearing a nightgown that was too big for her, one that hid any curves she might or might not have. Childlike waifs weren't my type, Juanita knew that, but I gave her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe this girl had some tricks up her loose sleeves.
"Are you hungry?" I gestured toward what remained of my dinner. She made a dismissive gesture with her eyes and shook her head.
"Thirsty?" I watched her eye the whiskey, then look briefly at my face. She was pretty, Juanita was right. Even with her long dark hair deliberately slung over half her face, I could make out a clear, pale complexion and deep brown eyes. I watched her scowl change to something more speculative as she looked back at the bottle. "Go ahead. Have some."
She let go of the doorknob and took a couple of steps toward me. Most girls were only too happy to be offered a drink, but this one acted like I was setting a trap. Her steps were hesitant, her eyes glued to my face as though she feared I might lunge for her at any second. I kept still, instinctively not wanting to scare her, and watched as she poured a finger of whiskey into the empty glass next to mine. She put the bottle slowly back down onto the table and reached for her glass, lifting it towards herself. Then, with a movement so fast I didn't have time to react, she threw the whiskey in my face.
"Bastard," she hissed at me, slamming her glass down on the table.
I sat there for a second, stunned and confused, but my reflexes kicked in, and before I knew what I was doing, I had her pushed back against the wall, my forearm under her neck just tight enough to hold her there. Instead of fighting back, she lifted her chin defiantly as if daring me to hurt her.
"What the fuck did you do that for?"
"You deserved it."
"I didn't do anything."
If eyes were weapons, she was firing cannons. This one had a lot of spirit, I'd give her that; but despite the fact that she probably didn't weigh more than a hundred pounds even without the huge nightgown, I'd never had to fight a girl to get her into my bed, and I wasn't starting tonight. I loosened my hold, about to tell her to leave and have Juanita send in someone else when she surprised me again and brought her knee up sharp and fast.
"Goddamn it!" I let her go and backed away, bent over in pain. "What the fuck is your problem?"
"Asshole." She took a step forward and hit me on the side of my head with her fist, hard. "Motherfucking asshole." She hit the other side of my head. "Motherfucking fucking –"
I grabbed her wrists and easily pulled them behind her, yanking her against me to ward off her blows. She kicked futilely at my shins but didn't have room to try her knee attack again. I transferred both of her wrists to my left hand and brought my right up to her head, pushing her hair back, trying to get a better look at her. She flung her head from side to side, not allowing me to see her face, while she pulled with all her strength to free her arms.
I suppose some men would have gotten excited to have a little hellcat like this squirming up against them, and that might even have been me a lifetime ago, but instead, she was making me tired. I just wanted my usual – a hot bath, a delicious meal, a quick easy fuck and a good night's sleep. I had to be sharp tomorrow and didn't have the time or energy for this shit.
The girl's struggles were weakening. She had fight but not endurance. I gathered up some of the loose fabric of her nightgown and used it to wipe the whiskey off my face. Glancing up at her as I finished, I was surprised to see she was fighting back tears. Jesus Christ. Suddenly I just wanted to go to bed – alone. Tonight was jinxed, first my bike's engine and now this girl who'd rather fight than fuck. I needed to cut my losses and get some sleep.
I let her go with enough of a push to prevent her from hitting me again. "Leave, then. I don't know what your problem is, but you can take it to some other lucky guy."
"What?" She let her guard down entirely and looked at me in shock.
"Am I not being clear? Although I've enjoyed the pleasure of your company, your manners and wit, I am excusing you. Go."
She looked at me with a deep, confused frown, for the first time seemingly aware of her attire, pulling her nightgown around herself and crossing her arms protectively.
"You really expect me to believe you're not from Mala?" She eyed me suspiciously.
This was beginning to remind me of a recurrent childhood nightmare where I was in a school play but didn't know my lines and didn't know what anyone else was talking about either.
"Mala? I don't even know where that is."
I rubbed my face and turned back toward the table. I could finish my dinner, have another drink and be asleep in twenty minutes if this violent myna bird would just leave me alone. "Who," I said, making it sound like an owl. "Hoo, hoo."
"Mala's not a place, he's a person. No, he's an animal. He's a motherfucking ass –"
"Hole. Got it. Person, not place. Animal, not vegetable. Unfortunately, I'm not in the mood for charades. Goodnight." I sat down and dug into Juanita's chiles with my fork. They'd gotten cold but were still delicious. Damn, that woman could cook.
The girl stood still, watching me eat. "Mala really didn't send you?"
I stifled a groan and looked up at her. "For the last time, no. I don't even know who he is." Her eyes had narrowed and were darting around the room, skittering nervously over the bed. Why this was so hard for her process, I had no idea, but I could literally see the wheels in her mind turning. I dug back into my dinner, willing her silently to leave. Instead, she sat down across from me.
I shook my head in disbelief. "Why aren't you leaving? I told you to go."
She looked at me for a long minute before answering, chewing on her bottom lip. "If you're not from Mala ..." She watched me eat. "Can I stay in here tonight? With you?"
I put my fork down and poured myself some more whiskey. Was this the favor Juanita'd hoped to bribe out of me?
"You don't want to be here," I said it as a statement, meaning Juanita's house, not my room.
She shook her head just once in agreement. "I don't want to be here."
"Then why are you?"
She turned her eyes down to the table, one hand coming up to wipe nervously at invisible crumbs. I could tell that she didn't want to say anything further, so I sighed and let her off the hook. Juanita was going to owe me big for this.
"I give up. Do whatever you want. You want to stay, stay." I went back to my meal, finishing it in a couple of bites. When I was done, I stood and started getting ready to go to sleep. I tossed my shirt on the dresser and sat on the bed to pull off my boots. She watched me warily, looking ready for another fight.
"Jesus, girl, I'm not going to do anything but sleep. Hopefully." I started undoing my belt, wondering if I'd be safe with her in the room, not the other way around. "What's your name, anyway?"
She snorted, all of her defenses back up. "My name? Nina, cara, pajarita." She paused and then spat out, "Puta."
"I'm Edward." I tossed my jeans onto the dresser with my shirt. I didn't care if she saw me in my underwear, but I had a feeling she wasn't looking. I pulled down the bedspread and got comfortable, the fatigue of the day's ride already washing over me. "If you're determined to stay, will you at least promise to be quiet?"
Okay. I closed my eyes and was asleep within minutes.
A/N: Hi everyone. Here's the first chapter of my sophomore effort; this story is in EPOV, and is much more plot-driven, which is my lame but true excuse for why it's taken me so long to write it.
Snarkymuch is beta'ing this for me (VixenLittleStella is pre-reading) and they are both already proving invaluable. Thank you, Sparkly Red Pen (and arfalcon for recommending them)! Any mistakes that remain are solely on me.
My Spanish is worse than Edward's, so don't worry - there won't be very much, but snarkymuch suggested I offer translations, and I thought that was a good idea.
Hola = hello
Que pasa = what's up?
Nada = nothing
Buena = good
Amigo/amiga = friend
Pajarita = little bird
Puta = whore
Lastly, I don't think I ever put a disclaimer in A Slow Boil, so just for the record, no copyright infringement is intended; the characters are Stephenie Meyer's, but the plot is mine.
Hope you enjoy it - kts