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Commanding Casey by Nicolina Martin – Sample

Chapter One

Casey

“You want some of this, baby?”

I open my mouth to answer, but he puts a finger to my lips.

“Shhh, I know you do. Stop fighting what we have.”

He towers over me, moving in. I back and slam against the rough brick wall, managing to knock the breath out of myself from the force.

“I’m just going home,” I repeat morosely. Same thing I said when he tried to chat me up back at the club. “Look, I’m not into…”

You.

“A relationship.”

Same thing I said when I first met him back at my workmate’s place.

I could have wanted to date him, if he hadn’t been such a player. I don’t know why he’s got his eyes so fucking set on me. He can have anyone. Is it because I’m not giving in?

All the blood seems to leave my head as he pushes against me. I feel every part of him. His cock is hard against my stomach and a shudder runs through me that turns into nausea. No. No, this isn’t happening!

He barks out a laugh, then he leans in, grabbing my hands as I try to push him off me. “Little Keagan. I’ll fuck you raw for being such a fucking tease. You’ve blue-balled me for weeks. I keep feeling those pretty eyes on me whenever we meet. I know you want me.” He pinches the inside of my thigh so hard that I shoot up on my toes, trying to escape.

Sucking in a deep breath, I then let it out on a scream, but he crashes his mouth to mine, swallowing my cries of fear as he begins to tear at my clothes.

The increasing pressure in my ears makes me jolt awake. In the first few moments, my skin aches as if I had just been hit, but looking around me in the quiet airplane cabin, I come back to the present. It’s been two years since the assault. He will never get to me again. I rub my thighs as if rubbing off the memory of the pain. The dreams still come on occasion. Hearing the name Alex makes my heart race. Still.

We’re descending fast. It’s the second time we switch planes on this seemingly endless journey.

There is time for a coffee, a sandwich, and a phone call.

“Mama?”

“Casey! How are you? Where are you?”

“I’m somewhere in Canada.”

“So many hours, dear. Your father has worn down the floor with his pacing. You know how he feels about you leaving.”

“He knows why I’m leaving. Can I talk to him?”

She sighs. “He still talks about shipping that monster off on a boat, just leaving him with no engine in the middle of the Atlantic.”

I laugh, despite my gnawing worry that this trip is an awful idea. The further I get, the more my insides hurt. I’d pace a floor too if I could. “He’d only float on the Gulf Stream down to the Bahamas, and then find a way back.”

“Are you doing all right? Are you eating?”

“Mm-hmm.” I take a bite and chew loudly.

“Okay, I hear you.”

I glance up at the monitor. Boarding has begun. “I gotta run.”

“Your brother says… I’ll translate that to ‘hi.’” Her voice is muffled when she tells my teen bro that ‘dickhead’ isn’t an appropriate word to call his sister. “Call us when you get there.”

“As soon as I can.” I grin. I love my kid brother. He loves to tease me. I’m eight years his senior and I was always the stronger when we fought, up until a year ago when he started packing.

We say our ‘I love yous’ as I make my way to the gate and the stewardess for the final leg on my journey.

The plains below us make me think about plane crashes, about what would happen if we went down in the Alaskan wilderness. There’s nothing here. I haven’t seen any signs of civilization for a long while. I can’t believe this state is so vast.

Glancing around me, at the other five passengers in the little cabin, I wonder if we’ll start gnawing on each other’s flesh. Who will perish first? Who will take the lead? I don’t have a lot of meat on my bones, but I think the sweaty guy with the comb-over in the front, the one who pushed me on his way up the stairs, would make a fine meal. He’d last for days.

I swallow and glance out the window again. At least we’d have water. I have seen nothing but snow for a long while.

Rubbing my face, I try to shake off the morbid thoughts. I don’t need to get crushed in twisted metal in a plane crash; I feel like I’m dying anyway.

It all started with a tense call from Susan, my lawyer. She sounded professional, as always, but I heard in her voice that something was wrong. Alex is being released early, in exactly three days from now, for ‘good behavior.’

Good behavior. He’s a monster, a predator. He should never go free again.

I would have laughed, had I not been so afraid. He had beaten me bloody when people came to my help. It happened so fast. He cornered me in that alley. A few more steps and I’d have been safe inside the Uber I’d called. I didn’t know that he was following me. I hadn’t teased him. He was flirty, I was flattered, maybe there was a blush and a giggle, but fuck, I hadn’t teased him. I don’t even dress like a girl with my Doc Martens, my dirty overalls and messy hair. I thought he was fun, a friend, and he tried to rape me.

He tried. But someone heard me.

I was saved, but that’s such a fucking joke. I haven’t felt safe a single day since.

And then my lawyer called.

Alex’s threats to come after me were real. I know it. After a few sleepless nights filled with frantic panic, I knew I had to run.

He got three years. Three measly years for what he did. My skin still aches when I think about what happened. The scars will never go away, neither the ones on the inside nor the imaginary ones I feel across my breasts, belly, and thighs. The nightmares don’t come as often, or they didn’t until I realized he was getting out. Now they haunt my every night.

I hate the Florida penal system with all my heart. He hasn’t changed. Being incarcerated hasn’t shown him to the right path. He kept putting the blame on me throughout the process and in a way that helped me heal, because seeing how the lawyer, how my parents and my friends reacted to his words, I realized they weren’t true. I’m not shit. I kick ass, and I know it. I might still work in my daddy’s garage, with the racing cars, but I’m becoming a name in the circuit, and I’m the only woman who is allowed on the team in Daytona.

He got three years, is being let out after two, and I’m giving up my life because I can’t stay. He’ll kill me.

The pressure builds in my ears. I force a yawn and look out the window again at the same time as the ‘fasten seatbelt’ sign lights up with a soft chime. We’re descending. My heart rate picks up. This is it. Whatever awaits me, at least I’ll be safe, and I can do this, I know my stuff. An engine is an engine everywhere, it’s just the size of the parts that differs.

I follow the stewardess with my eyes as she makes her way along the aisle, waking up a couple of guys who fell asleep. I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t people please for the life of me. I’m too awkward, too asocial. The guys in the garage, their stupid jokes and rough jargon, that’s my forte. They don’t demand that I behave or follow some unspoken rules, I can just be me, a little bit aloof, a little distant.

A pipeline construction site in Alaska doesn’t scare me. Replacing the damp Floridian heat with dry, bone-gnawing cold is a little intimidating, though, but I need the distance and the change. I’m really excited to see what snow is like. I have never touched any ice besides the stuff I put in drinks.

The airport consists of one lonely building at the end of the strip and a small flight tower a little to the side. There are gigantic hills of snow at the edges of the field and everything is white, so blindingly bright that my eyes ache. The frigid air immediately seeks to penetrate my jacket, and seeps in beneath it because I was stupid enough not to close it. Everybody disappears in different directions as I fumble with fingers that quickly get stiff from the cold. It’s me and the man who unloads our bags; apart from that the field is empty.

I’m just getting my zipper up when someone taps me on the shoulder. It’s the stewardess.

“You can’t stand here, dear. Follow the indicated path over to the arrivals terminal and you’ll find some warmth.” She nods toward yellow painted lines, barely visible despite the runway having been plowed.

“Of course.” I pull at my jacket, fighting the zipper. “I’m just gonna—”

I lift my gaze to the plains surrounding us, and track the silhouette of the blue mountains in the distance. What have I gotten myself into? Then I think of Alex, and being here on the other side of the US, with a whole country between us, feels pretty damn good.

“Not used to the cold?”

I’m pulled out of my reverie by the stewardess’s voice. “Yeah, no. I have never seen snow before. It’s really cold.” Grabbing my suitcase and my bag, I begin my second to last leg of this journey toward the unknown, toward the tiny house that is the airport. There are no other buildings in sight, and no other signs of civilization.

My new home for the foreseeable future.

Cole

Hooper!

I inspect the glowing, smoldering seam, closing up the last few inches before I switch off the gas flow, killing the welder. Hanging it on the rack, I push up the mask and turn to the voice, finding the boss right behind me.

“What?”

I don’t like interruptions. We’re on a tight schedule, and we’re doing well, but only because we work like machines, all of us. Plenty do it for the pay, sending money to their families each month. Some just want to work, just want to forget. Like me. Work, go back to the trailer camp, shower, eat, sleep like the dead, then work again. I’ve been here a year and a half. It was this, or drink myself to an early death.

“You’ve got a pickup.”

I groan. “Go get someone else.” Slapping the mask down again, I lift the welder, knowing already this won’t be the end of it.

“Hooper! Fuck’s sake. We’ve finally gotten ourselves a new mechanic. He’s arriving at the airfield in a couple of hours. Take the truck and go.”

“No.”

“You’ll get your day’s worth of pay, don’t worry ‘bout that.”

That’s not what I’m worried about. Two hours in the car to get there. Two hours back here. Four hours to try to keep my mind on something else than my shit back home. The thought is unbearable. I pull up the mask again. “Dude, Beanie hasn’t made a run in a long while.”

“He went a week ago to pick up the replacement to the faulty hose.”

Well, fuck. I can’t think of anyone else. We’re on a rolling schedule to make runs to the nearest civilization. I’m up. After this, it’ll be a long while until I have to go the next time. Rubbing my dirty glove across my face, I flinch and realize what I just did. There is now months’ worth of dirt all over my cheeks. The boss looks me over but his expression betrays nothing.

Ripping the mask off entirely, I stomp past the man, getting a few sideways glances from my coworkers. “Fine. Airfield?”

“Why you always gotta be so fucking difficult, Hooper? And yes. Airfield. Some guy. Can’t be that hard.”

“Got a name?” I mutter.

“Casey Keagan.”

“Got any credentials?”

“They’re fantastic. We’re fucking lucky.”

“Got any muscles? Can he pull his weight?”

“How the fuck should I know? I haven’t met the dude, now have I? Who would apply for work here if they haven’t got what it takes.” He pulls up his sleeve and glances at his wristwatch. “Clock’s ticking. Get a move on or he’ll freeze his ass off.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

I make my way along the stomped narrow path through the thigh-high walls of snow as I glance at the overcast sky. The clouds are a dusky blue. More snow is on the way. I hope it will snow overnight and not while we work because then we need to raise the tent, will be delayed, and everyone will be in a shitty mood. Taking an extra minute, I make a quick detour into the cantina and pour a cup of coffee into a paper mug, slap a lid on it, and then head for the pickup truck.

At least the vehicle has been defrosted at some point today and we just had lunch. I’ll be back in time for the shift to end, dinner, maybe a game of cards, and then sleep. I start up the engine, rip off gloves and jacket, throw them in the back seat and jump in. One of my work mates, Ray, cuts me a glance, raises his shoulders and throws out his arms, looking like a question mark. I nod to him and shrug, put the gear in reverse, say goodbye to numbing bliss and hello to hours of wallowing. I need a whisky. I don’t have whisky, and right now I feel really fucking sorry for myself.

As if on cue the faces of Alicia and Sage appear before me, twisting my heart into a knot, making me wish again that I had a fucking bottle of booze. They’re eight and ten now. I’ve missed their birthdays. Their mom… she made my life hell, made me a monster. In my darkest hours the thoughts I’ve had regarding my ex would have put me in jail for life if I’d have gone from thought to action. Finally I had to move away before I did something I’d regret for the rest of my life. I don’t even think they have a good life with Sandra. They’re with babysitters more than they see her while she’s chasing fame in fucking acting. She was always a shallow bitch and why I fell for that shell of beauty is beyond me. I pride myself in having a brain, but facts speak against me. We met before she got the little B-actress status she’s achieved, before she started sleeping around with producers and directors. Before I started looking too deep into the bottle. She was an ass, but so was I, and the regret eats at me every day.

Images of my last moments in our shared house flit mercilessly before me. I trashed our home, punched holes in the walls, roared, and I came so fucking close to hitting her. She’s half my size. I would have fucking killed her. The kids cried, screamed at me to leave Mommy alone.

My throat tightens. I have to stop driving before I end up in a pile of snow. The pickup skids on the slippery ice and come to a halt by the side of the road. Nausea rises and falls in me, as always when the memories pound at my mind. Killing the engine, I fall over the steering wheel and breathe.

She left me. Or I left her. I don’t know anymore. I had lost my job as an EMT, and I was a drunk. There’s no denying that. We were toxic together and when she fought to get the kids away from me, I had nothing. I just gave up.

I pull myself together and keep driving. Two hours feels like forever. I finished my coffee a long while ago, and I’m miserable.

When I pull up outside the terminal, I physically ache. I never knew that was a thing, that mental agony can manifest itself in your body, in your joints. It’s not the same pain as after a hard day’s work or working out. It’s a bone-deep, flu-like gnawing ache that nothing can cure.

This is why I don’t think. I don’t want to remember. I flee, and I’ll keep running for as long as I live. Maybe someday it will fade? I don’t fucking know. Fuck it all.

I plowed through every single girl in town after the divorce to keep my mind off everything. They lust for my body, and are scared to death because of my strength, my roughness, and my kinks. Absolutely no one asked how I was doing, or who I am.

Finally, I’d just had it. I prefer the solitude here, the simple camaraderie. No questions. I stay off the booze, there are no girls and no temptations. We live in the now, work, eat, shit, and sleep.

Outside the building stands a small person. Short and skinny. A duffle bag and a suitcase by their feet. I squint, trying to make out the face under the hood that’s pulled up to protect from the wind. Lush lips, a straight little nose, big dark eyes. That’s no guy. I wonder what a chick is doing here, but that’s none of my business. I leave the motor running as I unbuckle and wait. Clearly the dude hasn’t arrived yet. I frown as a thought strikes me. There’s only one plane arriving. Per week. Behind the corner of the building I see the tail end of a plane. I glance at the girl again. What the fuck? Where’s the guy? Is he inside? That’s a little sissy if I’ve ever seen one.

“Fucking hell.” I turn off the motor, put my jacket back on, and hop out. The girl keeps me pinned with her gaze, grabs her bags and moves toward me. I look past her, striding toward the terminal, frustration mounting in me.

“Are you with Track Line Corp?”

I stop, look at the girl, turn and look pointedly at the logo on the truck, give her a glare and start walking. That’s a fucking no-brainer.

She clears her voice. “I’m supposed to be picked up.”

“Yeah, whatever. I’m picking up our mechanic.”

“Is your mech called Casey Keagan by any chance?”

I almost stumble over my own feet. Clenching my jaw, I stop and give her a once-over. “I’m here to pick up our fucking mechanic. Did you see him?”

She pins me with her gaze. “That’s me. I’m Casey. I’m a mechanic, and I’m waiting for someone from Track Line to pick me up.”

I’m not hearing this right. My mind is playing tricks on me. She is fucking shitting me. “You’re kidding!” I growl and step closer, towering over her.

“No.” She tightens her jaw, trying to look tough, but she looks what she is; a little kitten that has no business being here.

“Yeah, that’s not happening. Go back to wherever you came from, I don’t care. I don’t know how you tricked the boss, but you’re not fooling me. We don’t need some little chick back at the site, we need a real mech. A dude.

She drops her bags and grabs the sleeve of my jacket. “Hey! Don’t be such a fucking dick. I’ve been traveling for twelve fucking hours. I’ve changed planes twice. I’m beat. I got the credentials, I know what I’m doing, and you’re taking me to the fucking site. Now.

I can’t help that a corner of my mouth pulls up into a grin. Foul fucking mouth. “Or what?”

She snaps her mouth shut and tightens her jaw. “Or I’ll report you to your manager.”

I bark out a laugh.

“Girl. I’m one of their best welders. Go ahead and report whatever the fuck you want. I’m out of here.”

I pull my jacket out of her grip with ease, making her almost lose her footing, and stomp off toward the car, a dark cloud of fury rising in me. We needed that mech. We’ve been managing without for too long, and everything is slowly going to shit with our temporary repairs. The equipment gets used heavily and the wear and tear shows.

“Dude!” she screams behind me with a hint of panic in her voice. “There’s no one left here and the next flight out is in a week. You can’t leave me! Take me to the site, now! I’ll prove my worth.”

Exhaling slowly, I stop again, turn and throw out my arms. Of course I can’t leave her. But I’ll also drive her back in a week. Personally. Travel distance and hours of wallowing be damned. “So fucking hop in the car.”

I climb into the driver’s seat and wait for her to join me. She struggles with her luggage. Weak. Just as I thought. I don’t know what she imagines, but Alaskan oil industry, building a pipeline, is no business for a chick.

Thrumming my fingers on the steering wheel, I start up the truck right as she shuffles into the passenger seat.

“Thank you,” she breathes as she pulls off her ski cap and pushes her hand through her hair, making it stand in all different directions.

Her cheeks are flushed, her hair is short, black, and spiky, she wears no makeup, and she’s as cute as they fucking come. Oh, yeah, that’ll get the starved guys going. She really has no business coming here.

I give her a glare and pull out onto the empty street. We’re the only vehicle in sight. Two unbearable hours in front of us. Fantastic.

Chapter Two

Casey

I don’t want to cry, but I feel like a little girl who has been slapped on the fingers. My last few weeks have been hell, and I’m not in a good place right now. The news of Alex’s release from prison, the decision to leave family, friends, my place, my work, and run. The journey here—exhaustingly endless—and now I’m being treated like dirt by a juvenile, bigoted, antisocial piece of shit. And a women hater to boot.

Despite the reasons behind it, the fact that I’m fleeing, I’ve still been excited about this journey. I’m used to fighting against prejudice but being met with verbal abuse before we’ve even presented ourselves is pretty damn discouraging.

Glancing over at him, I shrink back by the hostility in his glare. I swallow hard, and try to look unperturbed, but when he rips off his ski cap, throws it in the back, and then looks me over, I widen my eyes at the sight. Behind the oil and filth that streaks his face hides a gorgeous specimen of a man. He’s got light brown eyes, a straight nose, high cheekbones, and a rough dark brown beard that looks more like he simply forgot to shave than something that’s been cultivated. There’s a caveman air about him, rough, brutal, competent. He’s everything I find hot in a man, and fuck me, I definitely didn’t come here looking for a guy. Actually, I don’t want to be with a guy ever again. Me, my cars, the dudes in the crew, a couple of dogs, maybe a boat in the future, those are my plans for my life. This? No.

My new best enemy leans over and reaches for me. I stiffen, thinking he’s out for me somehow, but all he does is reach for the belt and snaps it in place. His eyes darken as he looks me over, and seems to sniff me. I shrink back as the air between us gets uncomfortably hot. As suddenly as he moved in on me, he pulls back, a sneer on his lips.

“I was gonna—”

“Stupid,” he mutters, puts the gear in drive and pulls out.

“Well, nice to see you too,” I sneer, my heart slamming in my chest. Stupid fucking piece of shit!

“You try that sarcasm on someone who cares.”

“Well, you’re a right ray of sunshine, aren’t you?”

He doesn’t answer. A muscle at the side of his jaw clenches and unclenches. He looks really pissed off and I wonder what the hell I did to make him so insta-angry with me.

“How far is it?”

He cuts me a glance. “Regrets already?”

“It’s a normal question,” I sneer.

“Too long.”

I grit my teeth as I try to push down the annoyance. He’s a piece of shit. A pretty piece of shit, but they come in all shapes. Unbuckling the belt, I tear down the zipper and squirm out of my oversized jacket, throwing it in the back. I’m sweating buckets. The heat in the car is cranked up to sauna levels.

“Can we turn down the heat?” Buckling back up, I reach for the control on the dashboard when I get a slap on my fingers. I. Get. A. Slap. On my fingers. As if I’m a kid.

“Wha—”

“Don’t touch my truck.”

“What are you? Five? I’m burning up.” I unbuckle again and pull off my sweatshirt, tossing it behind me and buckle up once more.

The brute looks me over, his gaze lingering level with my breasts before he looks back at the road, his lips twisting into a grimace. “Two fucking hours,” he mutters.

“What?”

“Are you deaf? You asked a question. I answered.”

Two hours? I think back to our conversation. Oh. “The trip to the site.”

That is long. Really long. Riding with this dude, it’s gonna take forever.

He scoffs. “At least one functioning brain cell.”

“Oh, my God! Why you gotta be so mean?” I slam my hands to the dashboard not to dart into it when he comes to an abrupt stop, the truck skidding on the snowy road.

“You tricked your way here somehow. A girl has no business on the site. You can cook, and clean the toilets, and that’s about it. I’m not endangering my men by letting you tamper with the equipment.”

I gape. Tampering? Endangering? He doesn’t know shit about me. “How very misogynistic caveman of you. I don’t answer to you. And I know what I’m doing.”

“I guess we’ll find that out sooner rather than later, won’t we?”

He turns the wheel, and we’re moving again.

Dick.

I cross my arms over my chest, staring out the window, trying to shut out his demanding presence. The heat is suffocating, the silence between us even worse. I glance at the clock. Fifteen minutes. We’ve been on the road for fifteen minutes. A movement in the corner of my eye makes me glance at him. I have to hide the triumphant smile. He turned down the temperature several notches.

“Hot?”

His lips tighten, but he doesn’t answer.

“So who did you piss off to have to pick me up?”

No answer.

“Got a name?”

Still no answer.

“Oh, my God,” I say, throw up my arms and shuffle away from him, half turning against the window.

“I didn’t piss off anyone. I was out of luck. And it’s Hooper.”

“Hooper. As a first name?”

“Nah. Cole.”

“Well, I’m Keagan. Casey. Nice to meet you.”

Cole scoffs. “Nice to meet me? You’re full of shit.”

“No more than you.”

He inhales sharply. “You don’t know anything about me.” His voice is dangerously calm, a low growl. “Shut that pretty little mouth of yours, or I’ll shut it for you.”

I swallow whatever retort I had planned. “Are you threatening me?” I finally choke out.

“Not even close. But I’ll tie you up and duct tape you if I need to. Don’t make the mistake to think I wouldn’t.” He shoots me a quick glance; his eyes have darkened, a wicked glint passes them as he looks me over.

I shrink back and cross my arms over my chest. “You’re insufferable,” I mutter, more to myself than to Cole. “Are you all like this?”

Tie me up. It’s… It’s wrong, but his words make my cheeks burn and I’m glad that I’m already covering my chest because my nipples turn rock hard in an instant. I exhale shakily. Jeez.

“Wanna go back yet?”

“Fuck you.”

I scream as the car comes to a sudden stop again and Cole is suddenly nose to nose with me. I search frantically for the door handle to get it open and get out, but he grabs it, cornering me.

“What are you—”

You. Are not. Cut out for this. If you mouth off once more, I will bundle you up and throw you in the back, got it?”

I swallow hard and meet his raging gaze. “That’s illegal,” I whisper. My heart races in my chest but between my legs heat builds. Holy shit.

“See any cops around?”

I fight the unwanted pull, inhaling on a shudder. “It doesn’t make this lawless land.”

“Damn near does.”

“Are you all like this?”

He scoffs and straightens, letting go of the handle. “I’m one of the good guys.” His eyes soften slightly as he looks me over, then he shakes his head. “You’re just a girl. What are you even doing here?”

Sorrow claws inside my chest as I think of home. Of Mama and Papa, the racetrack, the adrenaline, the routine work that has kept me sane. “Why are you so hostile?”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake. You’re not gonna cry, are you?”

“Makes you feel like the shit you are?” I wipe my nose on my sleeve. I’m not crying. Not for him.

“You’re not gonna have it easy with that attitude, girl.”

“I don’t expect easy. I’m not stupid, and I’m no ‘girl.’”

He scoffs. “You look like you’re barely out of high school.”

“I’m twenty-six,” I mutter.

“Why’d you pretend to be a guy?”

“I didn’t.”

“Boss thought—”

“Boss assumed. That a different animal. I didn’t say anything.”

“So you hid it.”

“I didn’t.”

“Can you honestly say it didn’t cross your mind it might be clever not to mention Casey wasn’t a guy? Like, maybe you wouldn’t have been offered the job.”

I chew on the inside of my cheek as I stare out at the eternal white plains. Of course it was intentional. I’m so lucky not to be called Kate or something equally obviously girly. Of course I’d have been denied.

“Cat got your tongue, little one?”

Little one? Oh, for fuck’s sake. He says all the right things that in any other setting would have made me crazy curious on who he is behind that facade.

“Why do you hate me so much?” I turn and look him over, his near-perfect profile, that tousled hair, those full lips. I tear my eyes off him just as he meets my gaze.

“Because you’re a liar and you’ll endanger my crew. I’ll make sure you’re put on the next plane back, then I’ll forget this ever happened.”

He’s getting to me. His barrage of loathing makes it increasingly difficult to push down the jittery anxiety that has set root in my chest. Maybe this was a mistake after all?

“I’ve had to prove myself, over and over. My whole life. This is no different.”

“This is very different, girl. This is like nothing you’ve ever seen before.”

“You have no idea what I’ve seen before. You don’t know me, yet here you are, spewing your prejudiced shit all over me. And stop calling me girl.

“Ready to call it yet?”

“Fuck you.”

“Not with a ten-foot pole.”

He sounds so disgusted it makes my heart twinge. I’m not here for anyone’s approval, but what the fuck? Give me a break.

“How long before we get there?”

“You need to pee?”

“No? Why?”

“Because you sound like a kid.”

“Oh, my God! Whatever. And no, I don’t need to pee. I’ll just shut up from now on.”

“Good.”

“Okay.”

I focus on breathing through my nose, slow, deep breaths, trying to calm my racing heart. I want to hit him. I’m not a violent person, but I really want to slap this obnoxious man’s face.

He doesn’t speak. Neither do I. He seems stressed, jittery. He sighs. Thrums his fingers on the steering wheel.

“So, how long’ve you been out here?” I have to break this silence or his fiddling will drive me crazy.

At first I think he’s ignoring me, but then he runs a hand through his hair and throws me a glance. “Year and a half.”

“Do you like it? That’s a long time, isn’t it? Contracts are four months at a time. Right?”

“People come and go. Work like this, everybody has their reasons.”

“And what is your reason?”

His eyes go nearly black. “That is none of your fucking business.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—”

The silence builds between us. All that is heard is the humming of the engine. I’m mortified. I have my reasons that I’ll never tell anyone here. Clearly he has too, and I just stepped over the line big time.

“Piece of advice, Casey Keagan, you don’t ask. Keep your head down. Do your shifts. Sleep. Eat. Take a dump. Don’t talk. Don’t prod.”

I swallow hard, glancing at the clock on the dashboard. Half an hour until we get there. What hell is awaiting me?

“Okay. Thanks.”

I’m becoming less and less sure about how clever this decision was.

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