Uncaged Love The Boxed Set #1-5(4)

By: JJ Knight

Today he’s in jeans, cross-trainers, and a button-down shirt in cool blue. At first glance, you wouldn’t notice a thing. But looking closer, Zero has tells. Perfect nails, buffed and clean, ready to apply the glitter daggers he adores. Smooth caramel skin, too smooth. He did a million laser treatments.

His black hair is snipped to perfection, a clean cut that flattens well under his wig cap. I think it’s the eyebrows that give him away, though. Dramatically arched and plucked, like he’s fresh out of a beauty parlor.

He takes in my hoodie and jeans. “Doing the angry east-side look today?” He pats the seat next to him.

I perch on the green vinyl stool. The place is quiet, just two old men drinking coffee in the corner. The Help Wanted sign crackles as I spread it out on the counter.

“Where is this from?” he asks.

“The gym across the street.”

Zero looks out the window. “Huh. What you going to do there?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t gone in yet.”

He encircles my bicep with long fingers. Zero hates his hands, as they are large and manly. Despite the bulk of my sweatshirt, he can still reach all the way around. “How are you going to lift those weights and stack them up?” He lets go. “You know that’s what they’re going to have you do.”

“I thought I’d be sweeping floors. Picking up towels.” I know I should frown in distaste, but I can’t stop grinning.

Zero narrows his eyes at me. “You are way too happy to be talking about working with greasy, sweat-covered men.” He spins my stool so I face him. “What is going on?”

“I met this … guy.”

Zero touches his cheek like he’s been slapped. “And you didn’t punch him? Or run?”

“Not this one.”

“I’ve known you what — three years?” Zero raises his perfect eyebrows like he doesn’t know the answer to that question.

I humor him. “Yep.”

“And you’ve liked how many boys?”

“You would be the only one.”

“And I’m easy.” He turns and smacks his hand on the counter. “Jerry, serve up two milkshakes, chocolate. We’re celebrating.”

The thought of food makes my head swim. I didn’t have breakfast. Or probably dinner last night.

“I’m going to bulge in my sequins tonight, but it’s worth it.” Zero presses his hands against his belly. He has the tiniest roll that bothers him. Just not enough to give up sugar. “So tell me about this boy.”

“He rides a motorcycle.”

“Dangerous. I love it.”

I pick at my jeans. “He works out at the gym.”

“Aha. Now I see the interest in the job.”

“Something about him … reminds me of my dad.”

Zero sobers. “A daddy thing. Interesting. I’m guessing that’s what makes it work.”

Jerry pushes two tall glasses at us. They’re frosty and cold, and a cherry balances on top of the swirl of chocolate.

I take a long drink, the combo of sweet and cold making me want to swoon. This crappy day keeps improving. “He pulled me out of this swarm of jerkoffs.”

Zero pauses, his mouth inches from the straw. “What are you talking about? Did somebody come after you?”

“It was outside the pawn shop. Nothing happened.”

“You were at a pawn shop?” He clutches at my wrist. “Don’t tell me you sold Grandmama’s necklace.”

I should have kept my mouth shut. “Zero, I had to.”

“I TOLD you to ask me for money. I TOLD you not to sell that.” He whips around to face the counter, like he can’t look at me. “Where is it? I’m going to go get it.”

“I’ll buy it back.” I point to the sign. “First paycheck.”

He takes a long pull on his shake, frowning. “You don’t know you’re going to get that job. You don’t know what it pays. You don’t know anything.”

“I do. I can feel it.” And I do. It’s a tingle, like something has changed. Like the world is saying, Rock bottom is over, baby. You just made it.

Zero glances at me sideways. “You do seem like a different girl.” He turns back to me. “I tell you what. March over there with all this magic on your face. Get that job.” He reaches over to smooth back my hair. “But let me fix this mess first. You might see The Man.”

“Not before I drink this!” I pick up the cold glass and clink it against his. “To employment.”

He nods. “To better days for Jo Jo.”

Chapter Three

Unlike the pawn shop, there is no reflection in the dark door of the gym. The glass is all painted black. I have no idea what’s in there.