CAM GIRL

(Birthday Girl Bonus Scene featuring Jordan’s sister–Please read this AFTER the Halloween Scene)

*Took the day off and wrote something for anyone interested! No biggie. This isn’t a book. (maybe later). Just fun for now.

If you read the Birthday Girl Halloween bonus scene, then you know there’s something going on between Jordan’s sister, Cam, and Kyle Cramer next door. Remember the guy Jordan babysits for? This is just a little scene.

Music to play along—> https://spoti.fi/3bU1uIr

I had to gather some visuals. For your pleasure, if needed—> https://bit.ly/30P2g2O

(Un-edited)

KYLE

Vicodin really is the most pleasant pill. Oxy is small, you can’t really tell that you’ve swallowed it, and morphine doesn’t go down easily. I’ve always found capsules sticky.

But Vicodin, the oblong, smooth shape soothes like that first taste of liquor. You’re not feeling the effects yet, but just the promise of what’s to come is a comfort.

I dump the three pills in my palm back into the bottle and quickly cap it, shaking the bottle near my ear. My head swims at the familiar sound of the pills jostling inside, and my stomach quivers as I slide the bottle back into my pants pocket, all thirty doses still present and accounted for.

I turn off the car and reach of the handle, but I stop and hold my hand up, seeing a sprinkle of white dust on my palm.

I try to swallow, but mouth is too dry. “Fuck it,” I growl and stick my hand to my mouth, sucking off the powder like a fucking junkie.

I throw open the door, climb out, and pull off my necktie, tossing it into the car before I open the top two buttons of my collar, trying to breathe. I never know where the day will take me, so I’ve just started wearing black suits everywhere now. I look like I’m in the mafia instead of a respectable cartel.

I slam the door, lock the car, and head for the doors, the cheering and applause drifting out through the windowless walls of the high-ceiled establishment.

The Hook. A lowly strip club sitting out here in the middle of nowhere. Down a lonely stretch of road. Away from the elementary and preschools. Out of sight of the new housing development with its family biking trails and dog park.

“You know we have plenty of these in Chicago, right?” a voice calls out, but I recognize it before I even look up.

I meet Anthony Santaro’s gaze, his two bodyguards flanking him like brick columns. “And we have plenty of ones out here, too,” I tell him, pulling open the door. “You’ll like it here. A little small town charm for you. And it’s safer right now.”

“Mmm,” he grunts, walking in ahead of me. “You’re probably right.”

I know I’m right. Chicago’s too hot right now. For both of us.

Max Haverstein greets us at the door. “How are you doing?” he asks.

I nod, walking past the bouncer and heading into the club. A rock song plays, a woman’s bluesy voice singing out of the speakers and vibrating under my feet, that same little rush of endorphins always greeting me whenever I enter here.

Maybe it’s how loud the music is. Maybe it’s the air, perfumed to cover up the liquor and the sweat. Maybe it’s the darkness, the pink neon lights around the stages and the spotlights overhead that don’t quite reach the black leather chairs and booths down below.

Maybe it’s the skin.

It’s like a cave in here, and I can be anyone I want when no one’s looking.

“Hi.” Kitty’s sweet, sonorous voice caresses me as gently as her hand sliding around my neck.

I wrap my arm around her naked waist and pull her in, pressing my cheek to hers. “I need a room,” I say into her ear.

She smiles, the alien antennae on top of her head adorned with little shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day bouncing back and forth. She takes my credit card that I toss onto her tray before she sets down the bottle of bourbon and two glasses. It’s probably a good idea to be here anyway. Chicago on St. Patrick’s Day is more party than I can handle right now.

“This isn’t bad,” Santaro shouts over the music. Destiny approaches, her tanned skin and curves filling out a pink velvet bikini with no trouble. He smiles down at her, slipping an arm around her waist. “How does this place pay for girls who look this good?” he asks me.

But still not looking at me.

Easy, I think in my head, but don’t have the patience to try to shout over the music. This is the only club in a fifty-mile radius. Mick gets the pick of hot flesh in six towns, and beautiful girls turn twenty-one every day. Or at least their phony IDs say they do.

“Now I know who you came here to see!” the DJ shouts into his microphone. “Shake your shamrocks and give it up, because you are in luck tonight, laddies!”

Cheers rings out, howls filling the room.

“It’s…..” He drags out the words. “Ha-lo!”

The hair on my arms rises, applause goes off, and the music starts, Marilyn Manson’s Tainted Love pounding over the sound system as a body enters my peripheral vision. The beat fills my chest, and it takes me a moment, but finally, I but I look up, finding center stage.

Cameron Hadley, known as Halo here, struts onto the stage like the whole world is here for her. Her hypnotic eyes and wicked smile always displaying all the confidence of a grown woman, but she’s only twenty-four. While I need alcohol—or any other kind of help—to be me, and I’m thirty-five.

She owns it. Never a hiccup. Hair whipping, back arching, stepping to match each beat, completely in sync with the music as she slides onto her back, thrusts her hips up and slams her fists twice to the floor underneath her. She swings around the pole, a deafening applause ringing out as her green devil horns shine under the spotlight and her long, chestnut brown hair flows down her back. She climbs high, her skin golden and toned against a black leather thong and a see-through black mesh crop top. Her sequined green bikini top is visible underneath.

Sinking into the splits, her ass to the crowd, she thrusts to the music as money rains down onto the stage.

And for a moment, I’m mesmerized. There’s a reason she’s the most popular act.

Slinking against the pole at her back, she looks down and sees me. Her eyes dark against her black eye makeup and her chin high, she looks so powerful. More powerful than me.

But we know better, don’t we, baby? I crook my fingers, gesturing her over.

Other dancers enter the stage, and she makes her way over, stepping down the stairs and over to my side.

I gaze at her, the glitter I thought I saw on her lips not actually there. They were just glistening.

I tuck an arm around her waist. “This is Halo,” I tell Anthony. And then I lean into Cam. “I want you to loosen him up, while we talk.”

Her eyes flash to mine for a split-second before moving to his without a falter. She licks her lips with the hint of a smile as Santaro steps over, leaving Destiny behind.

“Halo,” he says, kissing her hand as his eyes shoot up to the horns on her head. “Are you holy?”

She slides a hand up the lapel of his tan suit and over the black shirt underneath. “You will see God,” she promises and takes his hand.

She pulls him after her, and I follow, grabbing the bottle off the table.

“Jesus, fuck…” He eyes me over his shoulder. “You weren’t kidding.”

My eyes drift to the small of Cam’s back, her phoenix tattoo stretching around her waist and molded to her skin in a way that almost makes you envious of fucking black ink. Officially, I hate tattoos marring a woman’s skin.

Unofficially? Yeah, it’s complicated.

We step into a private room, Anthony’s security remaining outside the door as he drops down to the burgundy sofa, unbuttons his jacket, and stretches out his legs. I refill our glasses as Cam starts the music, and I double check the camera is off before I sit down.

“Special occasion?” Cam asks, strolling over and running her hands up Santaro’s chest.

“My buddy here just got engaged,” I tell her the truth. Although that’s not why we’re here.

“Congratulations.” She grabs the pole in the middle and quickly jumps up, taking the riser in front of us in one nimble step, her movements fluid and lascivious. Like an animal luring. “You should bring her in. I do couples.”

Anthony chuckles, the music starting to drone out of the speakers. “There’s women you fuck and women you marry, Halo. I think I’ll keep these little trips to myself.”

Mafia wives, kingpin wives…they practically play the same role as a First Lady and need to be as damn-ear respectable, too. They’re for show. Not for fun.

A dark and sultry bluesy song pours into the room, the slow burn guitar and vocals building as I lean my right arm over the back of sofa and turn toward Anthony. Cam slinks against the pole feet away and slowly pulls the strings of her bikini top loose under her shirt. I force my eyes away.

“Seventy-five hundred kilos, uncut…” I confirm in a low voice. “You’ve got transport?”

“Barges.” He lifts his glass to his mouth, his eyes following Cam. “Up the river to Chicago from the Gulf. From there it’ll ship out of Morehouse to Boston, New York…”

“L.A.?”

“The Bolivians supply the southwest, but we’re breaking into the market.” He takes a sip. “Stand by.”

I breathe out a laugh. God bless anyone who wants to mess with the Bolivians and may they rest in peace. The pill bottle digs into my thigh, and I close my eyes, throwing back my glass in a huge swallow.

Cam bends her knees, coming down slowly and throwing her head forward and back before moving into the pole, thrusting softly and beautifully again and again.

She pulls her top free, tossing it, and her tits sit visible underneath the see-through mesh shirt, a familiar jolt to my dick as her eyes move from him over to me.

“How are you getting it over the border?” I ask him.

“Drones.”

I cock an eyebrow. “How much weight can drones carry?”

“Well, we’ll need a lot of fucking drones,” he laughs.

Cam leaves the riser and slips a knee between him and me, wrapping her arms around his neck and moving into him, her eyes staring down at him—through him—as if her body is separated from her mind. This is a job.

“When?” I ask him, my pulse kicking up a notch.

When. I hold my breath.

When he doesn’t answer, I take another sip, a light sweat covering my forehead. I’m moving too fast.

“You can touch her if you want,” I tell him, changing the subject. “She likes it.”

Cam swings a leg off him, turns around, and slips the other leg back over, her eyes locking on mine for a split-second before she leans back into him, inviting him in.

I see her jaw flex as she pulls his hands to her hips.

“Halo here wants to be an accountant,” I play, both of us doing our part to relax him.

She writhes, letting his hands roam over her ass and thighs and up her body, her hard nipples she probably didn’t even have to ice before she got on stage, poking through the mesh of the shirt.

“Do you?” he asks her.

She turns her lips to his, not touching. “I like money,” she whispers.

“How much do you like it?”

And he grabs a breast in each hand through her shirt and squeezes them. I see her tense just enough for me notice as my intestines knot inside me. But I ignore it, pouring myself another glass.

“That’ll cost you extra,” she taunts, recovering.

He takes her between the legs. “And this?”

I bite the corner of my mouth hard and pound down another glass. “Depends on how hard you are and how much work she needs to do,” I add and then to her, “How hard is he?”

She grinds on his dick, not missing a beat, because Cam knows her fucking job. “Like a newly fired steel rod straight pole,” she coos.

“It’s always like that,” he tells her. “Anytime you want.”

She moves faster, humping harder, and his breathing quickens, ready to pop.

“When?” I seize the moment.

He tries to catch his breath as she rolls her hips, rubbing on him good.

“The shipment from Columbia arrives in Monterrey a week from Monday,” he pants, looking up at her through the ceiling mirrors. “They’ll drive it to the border, drop it in Texas, and Dallas will put in on the river in New Orleans within twenty-four hours. Chicago gets first dibs—prime Columbian coca.”

I blink long and hard, slowly exhaling. That motherfucker better not be lying, either. Jesus Christ, I did it.

Cam’s flat tummy moves under his palm, and I watch as his fingers dip under the strap of her thong. The soft skin. The body inside. I swallow hard. “Didn’t I tell you you’d like doing business with me?” I tease him.

He chuckles, but he doesn’t want to get up. “Before we leave…” he starts, grabbing a fistful of her hair and yanking her back into his chest. “How is she?”

Cam’s eyes meet mine, and the detached drone is gone as she stares at me, suddenly alert.

“Like a jackrabbit,” I say, staring back at her.

He leans into her ear. “I want you to bend over now.” He pushes her forward and reaches down, unfastening his pants. He looks to me. “You can stay for this if you want.”

I see Cam’s bottom lip shake with her breathing, and I open my mouth, but then a phone rings and he stops.

Anthony pulls out his cell and looks at the screen. “Ah, shit,” he growls under his breath, pushing Cam off him. “Hold on, baby.”

He rises and leaves the couch, putting the phone to his ear, and I feel Cam staring at me, but I don’t look at her. I force my breathing even, lean back, and light a cigarette, hanging my arm over the back of the sofa.

“Yeah, yeah, I got it.” Anthony paces, fastening his pants again. “Son of a bitch.”

He hangs up and pulls some money out of his wallet, tossing it onto the riser.

My shoulders relax. “Problem?”

“Nothing that concerns us,” he grumbles, “just all hell breaking loose in Florida. Stolen shipment.” And then he points a finger at me. “You better not lose one of mine ever. That changes things. Understood?”

I blow out a stream of smoke. “You lose money, I lose money. That won’t happen.”

He nods, flashes Cam a wink, and leaves the room, his security following him down the dark hallway.

Cam sits there for a moment longer, and I feel her eyes. Everything she wants to say, but she knows better.

She stands up, swipes her bikini top off the floor, and walks to the mirror, fixing her hair and checking her eyeliner and lipstick that’s smudged with her sweat.

She heads out the door, her heels digging in extra hard, and I smile a little now that the pressure’s off.

“Halo?” I call.

Cam stops, her back tensing before she turns and faces me. I pick up his wad of bills off the riser, knowing how much more it would’ve been if he’d fucked her.

I hold it up for her, and she walks over, a death glare in her eyes, but she stays silent.

She grabs the cash, but I hold strong. “Send in Destiny, please,” I tell her. I’m not ready to leave quite yet.

I let the money go, the steady rise and fall of her chest telling me all I need to know about her mood right now, and I lean back, take a drag, and adjust my cock. She pivots on her heel and leaves, the floor shaking as she slams the door behind her.

***

A couple hours later, I stand at my kitchen window, the house dark as the smell of the teak floors my ex-wife put in three years ago competing with the scent of my cigarette.

I didn’t screw Destiny. Although it’s good for people to think I do shit like that. Unfortunately, it’s not good to mess with women who live in my town, because the last thing I want to do is run into one-night stands at the grocery store.

My neighbor’s kitchen blinds are drawn, but the light over his stove must be on, because I watch the shadow of his fiancé, Jordan, work her magic on top of him as he probably sits in a kitchen chair. Two heads, hair moving, some jerking here and there… I suck on the cigarette, scowling as I blow out the smoke and check my watch. “Fifty fucking minutes,” I grumble under my breath. “Is he kidding? Jesus, come already.”

Do women really like to have sex that long? I mean, isn’t she getting tired? Isn’t he? He’s older than I am, for Christ’s sake. Only a few years, but still older. I’d be tired by now.

Footfalls hit the wooden stairs on my back porch, and I wince just as my backdoor whips open, hits the drier, and I smell Cam’s perfume before I even see her.

Ugh, fuck. I hold the cigarette between my fingers as I rub my brow.

Storming into the kitchen, I have just enough time to turn before she bolts up to me in her jeans and crop top sweatshirt, shoving me in the chest. I grit my teeth and dig in my heels, taking a step back to steady myself before her hand whips across my face, a slap piercing the air and fire spreading across my cheek.

“I hate you,” she growls so hard it’s almost a whisper.

Her arms fly out again, coming at me and slapping me across the face and head again before she jumps on me, wrapping her limbs around my body and attacking full force.

Goddammit. I bow my head, trying to shield myself as my cigarette falls to the floor. I take her arms and peel her off me. I carry her out of view of the window and set her down, pointing in her face. “Grow up,” I say.

But she doesn’t. “I am not your whore to pass around!”

“Oh, please.” I swipe my butt off the floor and stand in front of the window again. I wipe my face, checking my hand for blood. “It wouldn’t have gotten that far. You know I wouldn’t have let that happen.”

She lets out a growl and dives in, hitting me again. I harden my jaw against the attack, but before she can keep going, I grab her wrist and push her ass back. “Hitting a cop is a felony,” I grit out, throwing her arm off. “Knock it off.”

She breathes hard, and I can tell she’s been pissed and dying to put me in my place for the last two hours until she got off work. “I would’ve just told him you were on your period or something,” I mumble. “Guys hate periods.”

”And what if he wanted me to blow him instead, asshole?”

“I’m not going to let anything happen to you,” I tell her the same shit she already knows. “I’ve told you that a million times.”

“Fuck your mother, Cramer!” She flashes both fingers at me, the blush of heat across her cheekbones. “I’d trust a pimp more than I’d trust you! You enjoyed that. You enjoy seeing me degraded!”

I shake my head, focusing my eyes back on Pike Lawson’s house. She’s so fucking clueless. Same as always. Like I didn’t get her the fuck out of there in case he came back. I brought in another dancer instead just in case. One who does throw around some pussy for a few extra bucks.

I take a drag, her breathing sounding like she’s two minutes from crying or killing me. “Even when I was fourteen, I knew what you were about,” she grits out in a hard tone. “You liked hassling me. Backing me into corners with your fucking badge. Busting me for every little thing I did wrong. Having power over me, because I was an easy target. Now I’m a single mom, no education, living paycheck to paycheck. I’m weaker than you. You liked that ten years ago, and you still like it!”

“Don’t think about me, Cam.” I take another drag, still staring out the window. “I don’t think about you at all.”

Pike and his soon-to-be-wife still go at it behind the blinds, reminding me of the little things I didn’t realize I’d miss so much. My ex used to love to do it anywhere except the bed.

The smoke stings my eyes, and I blink. “Besides…” I tap off the ash into the sink. “You give it to every punk ass frat boy that comes through that place. Why not do it for a cause and make a little money while you’re at it?” I look down at her. “I hear you’re pretty good.”

She bares her teeth, a little snarl escaping as she advances on me, but I’ve had it. This is not the fucking night. Stepping into her, I flick my cigarette into the sink, dig out my badge hanging around my neck, tossing it onto the counter, and pull out my sidearm, slapping it down on the countertop as I back her into the wall.

She stares at the weapon, her scared eyes flitting up to me. “You’re going to toe the line, because you have no choice,” I say through my teeth. “If it weren’t for me, Killian would be in foster care, and you’d be serving three to seven right now, so you will show some fucking gratitude and keep your hands to yourself.”

She has been kicking and scratching me since she was fourteen, and I’ve had it. She’s not in prison right now because of me.

She still maintains she didn’t know her boyfriend at the time was hiding a whole brick of coke in her closet four years ago, and she probably didn’t, because Cam is a bubblehead, but no one would believe her, and thanks to me, no one knows. Thanks to me, she didn’t go down with him, and Killian only lost one parent instead of two.

I stare down at her, a little fear in her eyes hidden behind a lot of anger, and I recognize it, because it’s the same thing I see when I look at myself in the mirror. Except for me, it’s different. A lot of fear. A little anger.

Neither of us should be here. I know that. I was a beat cop—investigating gas station robberies and domestic abuse—and one night I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or as the feds considered it, the perfect place at the perfect time. Their agent had been compromised, I was already in, so we ran with it.

Five years. Five fucking years.

I step back, the truck on my shoulders making it almost impossible to move, but I drift back to the sink and light another cigarette.

When Cam speaks again, she sounds so sad. “When does it end?” she asks.

I blow out the smoke, staring out the window.

Her voice breaks my heart, but I won’t admit it. The question comes out like a beg.

“I don’t know,” I murmur.

I wish I did. I wish I could give her an answer. I wish I hadn’t dragged her into this, but I know if I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t do anything differently. Cam could get in where almost no one could. She was an asset I needed.

Making her way to my side, she picks up an apple out of the bowl, and I exhale, thankful she’s calmed down. We stand there for a minute as she runs the apple under the faucet and grabs paper towel to dry it.

But then she stills, and I know she’s noticed what’s happening next door.

She cocks her head, both of us watching. “Do they do that a lot?”

“Frequently,” I bite out. “I almost think that prick is rubbing it in my face.”

“Possibly. Pike thinks you’re a sleaze.”

“I don’t give a shit what that boy scout thinks of me,” I fire back. “He’s lucky I do what I do, so he can live over there in his bubble with his teenage snatch, worry-free.”

She pinches me arm.

“Ow.” I glare down at her.

“That’s my sister,” she says. “And she’s almost twenty-one.”

I laugh, smoking drifting out of my mouth. “She can almost order from the drink menu at Applebee’s.”

“Shut up,” Cam spits out, taking a bite of her apple.

But I can’t stop laughing, my nerves finally relaxing for the first time in days. Cam is nearly twenty-five, which is still fifteen years younger than Pike Lawson, but I gotta wonder why he didn’t go for the older sister.

But then… I already know. Cam is a handful with a capital-fucking-H, and the sisters are polar opposites.

Jordan is like Barbie—beautiful blonde hair, tight, little shorts, tan legs, and a beauty queen smile. Dream house. Dream car. Dream Ken.

The first time I busted Cam, she was fourteen with orange hair down to her ass.

Jordan says please and thank you, recycles, and puts up posters in the neighborhood every time she finds a fucking stray cat.

Cam decided when she was sixteen—during her platinum, blonde dreadlock stage—that one middle finger was just not enough for Officer Cramer anymore. She’s been flashing me both for the past eight years now.

Jordan’s body was made for someone’s hands. Cam had looked like a boy, no curves, and a flat chest.

That was until I took a buddy to the club one night for his birthday and saw her working there. Jesus Fuck, I’d almost needed to go lay down. Tits and ass, her hair a normal color for once, curves for days, tan skin glowing… My groin hardens, just thinking about the transformation a couple of years and having a kid had made on her body. God, she looked like a carnival ride. I didn’t know how to process it.

She wasn’t old enough to strip. She wasn’t old enough for sex. And now men were…

She was…

In her head, she’d found a way for people to want her. I remember feeling something weird. Like responsibility or territorial or some shit, I don’t know, but I don’t know how much I breathed when she climbed on top of my friend and started writhing on him, slow and sexy, like a full-grown woman with years of experience, but she was only nineteen, rubbing her ass on his dick. I watched his fingers thread through the straps of her thong while he touched her smooth, beautiful hips. What the fuck was she thinking? Growing up and turning into this? Looking like that?

One minute she’s fourteen, gawky, and kicking and screaming whenever she’s not sucking on a bong, that is, and the next thing I know, I’m almost hauling her ass out of there like I used to haul her ass out of abandoned buildings with her can of spray paint years ago. Why didn’t I this time?

Because she’s an adult. A woman.

“I want a gun,” she says, snapping off a chunk of apple with her teeth.

I roll my eyes, blowing out smoke. And then she says stupid shit like that, and I remember she’ll never stop being a child.

“Absolutely not.”

“I’m at risk,” she retorts.

I stare down at her. “There is no way in hell I’m putting a firearm in your hands, Hadley,” I say sternly. “And not with a six-year-old in the house.”

“You have plenty of guns.”

“And there’s no way I’m putting one of my firearms in your hands, either. You do something stupid they can trace that back to me.”

“God, you’re so uptight,” she spits out. “You need to get laid.”

“I get laid.”

“I mean by someone you actually care about,” she replies, speaking over a mouthful of fruit. “You need to go pay that ex-wife a visit and slap her with your penis a few times.”

I can’t help but laugh as I pinch the bridge of my nose. God, she’s such an idiot.

“So about that gun,” she says. “Again, I’m at risk.”

“And when are you not?” I suck in another lungful of smoke. “You attract trouble at that job, and let’s face it, you would anyway.” I look out at the shadow of Jordan, knowing perfectly well why Pike was never tempted with Cam. And why I’m glad for it. “That, on the other hand, is a really good girl, isn’t she?” I point to her sister. “Good people manifest good lives for themselves, don’t you think?”

“I hate you.”

“Don’t say that, Cam.” I stare out the window. “I’m all you’ve ever had.”

Like really. I’m the only who’s ever disciplined her, and I’m almost tempted to believe that’s why she continually did shit wrong right in front of me, so I’d bust her.

She was bad. I was bad. We were both going down in flames anyway. We may as well do it together.

I guess I no longer wanted what Pike Lawson had. Love and birthday cakes and commitment. I’d gotten used to living in the dark—club girls and pills and watching the scum I was infiltrating do the nasty shit they did and trying to convince myself that I wasn’t becoming one of them. That I was still a good man.

There was a time, very recently, I could count on one hand the number of women I’d slept with before my wife. But after she left and took the kids, I let the fence between my two lives sink away and there was no separation between reality and role anymore. Now my days were just one long night, a pill to wake me up and another to get me to sleep.

I close my eyes and rub my scalp, my black hair needing a wash as badly as my fucking mind. I hadn’t seen my kids in weeks.

The things I’d had to do to gain trust the past five years… I was for sale more than Cam had ever been as a stripper.

I rub the scars on my chest, under my shirt, feeling the sting of my nails against the sensitive flesh, but after a moment, Cam pulls my hand away and holds it up.

I follow her gaze and see blood on my fingers, finally registering the cool wet on my shirt sticking to my skin. My hand shakes, and Cam’s eyes dart up to mine, knowing it’s not from the pain, either.

Her mouth opens and closes a few times, but she doesn’t have to talk for me to understand. I don’t have to talk for her to, either. Cam is all I’ve ever had. This fucking kid is the only one I’ve never had to lie to.

I pull my hand away. “Mills will be in touch with you about the gig in Chicago.”

She stares at me, clearing her throat. “Am I wearing a wire?”

“I’m not trying to get you killed,” I snap back. “Just confirm the party is present, and I’ll take it from there. Do not request the night off from The Hook. I will take care of it the day of. I don’t want it alerted you’ll be gone in case anyone is onto you.”

“And the—”

“Mills will have the burner,” I assure her. “We know our jobs, Cam.”

She remains there for a moment, but eventually turns to leave.

“Take the pills,” I tell her.

They sit in my pocket, wrapped in my fist, and I shouldn’t have said it. I know I’ll regret it.

But I can’t trust anyone else. I hate myself every day, and I can’t keep this up. I’d used them to cope with the pain after I was stabbed and cut up and beaten within an inch of my life three years ago, and now I used them to muster the fucking nerve I needed just to keep doing this job. It was going to beat me, and I need to live.

She reaches into my pocket and pulls out my hand, peeling the fingers open. She takes the bottle and looks up at me. “You can quit any time.”

I gaze down at her, hating what I’d done to her. How I’d used my helping her get out of trouble with her boyfriend to justify pulling her into this, but the truth was, I couldn’t do it alone.

She might hate me, but she didn’t how bad this really was. Five years of my work. Five years. I’d ruined my marriage. My kids barely know me. I had been tortured, nearly to death. If I quit now, it was all for nothing.

I yank my hand away. “What do you know about anything?”

And I turn back to the window, signaling she could fucking leave now.

Jordan and Pike have slowed down, still moving, probably kissing, but the Olympic marathon seems to be over, and I inhale a few silent breaths to center myself again.

Out of the corner of my eye, Cam heads for the back door she now comes and goes through so she doesn’t have to keep lying to her sister that we’re sleeping together to explain why she’s coming and going from the house.

I smoke the last of the cigarette. “What would you have done?” I ask as she slips away. “What would you have done if I’d bought someone else for Santaro tonight…and bought you for myself?”

She stops but she doesn’t turn around. “If you thought I would ever dance for you, you would’ve asked by now,” she says. “I will never dance for you.”

I blow out and dump my cigarette into the sink, turning on the water to douse the embers. “Goodnight, Cam.”

She leaves, and I wander over to the table, the ceramic shakers my kids painted me for Father’s Day sitting at the center. Resting my elbows on my knees, I open an app and play the song she danced to tonight, I Feel Like I’m Drowning. I set my phone on the table as I bury my head in my hands and close my eyes, letting myself pretend that I’m back in that room.

No Santaro. No Chicago.

No pills. No pain.

Just us.