Strike at Midnight(8)

Marcel and his father, Jacque, had been the ones to take me in when I had fled my home. One of the conditions of me staying with them had been that I needed to earn my keep, and that’s when I had started training for Jacque’s sideline of the renegade-hunting business.

He had been like a father to me after that, and Marcel like a brother. Neither of us had taken it well when his hard living had finally caught up with him, but it had brought Marcel and I closer. I had moved into the rooms above the inn, and took sole responsibility of the renegade-hunting service—including its profits—and Marcel kept the profits from the inn. I did agree to pay him rent, since he could have rented out the rooms if he hadn’t had me taking up space, and so far it had worked out fairly enough for us all.

He stayed in the living quarters that had been built on the back of it and Melody had moved in with me when she’d had no other place to go. I had to admit her contribution had helped with the rent, and the three of us had become a strong unit—a family.

The inn was busy, but no one even batted an eyelid when I walked in looking like I had run through a hedge backward. Not that I was complaining. I just needed that drink and then I could slink off to bed.

Melody was keeping the customers in raptures as she sang them a love song, and they continued to give her their attention as she sent out her dulcet tones from the small stage. Apart from Marcel. He just stared at my bare feet and tattered dress with a smug look on his face.

It made me want to punch him in the mouth, but Marcel had one of those faces that were too pretty to want to bruise. He had brown hair, bright blue eyes, and a set of lips that some women referred to as kissable. But not me. They were more like a target I wanted to hit when he turned his smart mouth in my direction. Like now, as he gave me a smirk from the other side of the bar as I made my way over to him.

“Rough night?” he asked as his eyes gleamed back at me with humor.

“You could say that,” I said, putting my remaining slipper down in front of him. “Three brandy slammers and a whiskey will do for now.”

He raised an eyebrow at me and I glared back in return.

“Just get me my damn liquor, Marcel. I’ve earned it.”

“Want to talk about it?” he asked as he turned to grab a bottle and the shot glasses.

“Not really,” I said, taking the first glass once he had poured it. The liquid felt good as it slid down my throat.

“You’ve torn your dress,” he said. “You actually looked like a real girl when you got into the carriage earlier.”

I grabbed the second shot to knock that one back too.

“Very funny,” I said, taking the third shot so it could join the others, “but the last time I checked, I had reached mid-twenties with boobs. That qualifies me as a woman. A real woman.”

He laughed and handed me a larger glass with the whiskey in it. “Why don’t you make this one last longer than a few seconds?”

His words got lost on me, and the whiskey joined the brandy in my stomach as I slammed the glass down in front of him. “I’ll sip the next one, Daddy.”

“Someone has to look out for your skinny ass. Have you eaten much today?”

“I’ll eat like a pig tomorrow,” I said, tapping my glass to urge him for a refill. The alcohol was starting to warm me up.

He shook his head in defeat and refilled my glass. He knew I would be okay. He just had to act concerned every now and then to make himself look good.

“I’ll remember to nag your ass the next time you hit the hard stuff,” I said, taking the whiskey and sipping it as promised.

“I’m a grown-up now,” he replied, wiping the bar in front of me. “I don’t do stupid stuff like that anymore.”

I scoffed. “More like you’re too old to do stupid stuff like that anymore. I swear you’re going gray. I should call you Granddad instead.”

“I’m two years older than you.”

“Yeah, but you’ve acted more like fifty since taking over this place.”

“One of us has to be responsible, kid,” he said as he teased me. I gave him the finger.

“Melody is going for it tonight,” I said, nudging my head towards the stage where she was singing. “They’re all in raptures.”

He laughed and leaned on the bar. “She’s definitely picked up the business. I’m thinking of upping your rent.”

“Don’t you dare,” I said, knowing he was teasing, but I panicked internally anyway—just in case.

“Then behave yourself, Rella.” He smiled. “Or you will have to start working the bar to make up your paycheck.”

“Piss off,” I said, and I knocked back the rest of my drink. He took the glass from me and I smiled at him with heavy eyes. “Make the next one a double.”


“Are you kidding me?” I asked as a blinding light forced me from my sleep. My arms didn’t provide enough protection as I threw them over my face. Where the hell am I?

“You mumbled something last night about having a meeting today,” a woman’s voice said, and it registered that it was Melody.

“Shit,” I said, forcing my arms down to see I was in my bedroom. A frilly nightgown looked back at me from where my torn ball gown should have been. “Who the hell undressed me?”

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