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Cover Up
Author: Elizabeth Knox

 

 

PROLOGUE

 

 

MINDI


Three Months Ago . . .

 

 

I study my reflection in the full-length mirror, trying to analyze all angles. The mirror cost me ten bucks, but I feel like I needed it since things in my life will be changing very quickly. I prop it up against the wall next to the minuscule closet, and now I’m carefully picking over my looks.

My pale, blonde hair is pulled back in the usual ponytail I wear for work, and my makeup cleverly hides the purple bags under my eyes and the pallor of my skin. My lips, painted coral, twist wryly as I take in the uniforms Jason, the owner of the diner, decided the waitresses would start wearing.

The black pants mold to my curves, stopping at mid-calf. My black tennis shoes cover my feet, and the bold red shirt hugs my breasts and barely brushes the top of the pants. I feel a little exposed since the clothing is so tight, but what else can I do? When I discovered I was pregnant, Jason generously offered me a permanent position as the morning shift waitress. I needed a job, some steady way of earning income, so I gratefully accepted.

But what is Jason going to do? I cup my stomach, which is just slightly beginning to swell when I develop a basketball belly and can’t fit into the uniform anymore? Deciding to worry about that another day, I stroke my fingers along my abdomen as I sink to the edge of my bed.

I’m scared. I can admit that to myself. I’m scared to be pregnant and alone. Scared of the reality that I’ll soon be a single mother.

I know I can go to Fist, that I’ll be welcomed and taken care of while I’m pregnant, and a part of me wants to do that so badly. I know the rough area of where he lives, of where the club is based, that I could get there with relative ease. I’ve thought about it over and over. But there’s a part of me that just can’t do it, that just can’t pull that trigger and go to him.

That part of me is still raw over the betrayal, still hurt over the fact that Fist knows Tyler—and has to know him well to do the kind of business they do together. I feel lied to, like I wasn’t important enough for Fist to choose me over Tyler or to give up a drug contact for. So, I’m doing this alone.

And I hate that I’m doing this alone. It’s just that I feel I have no other choice. The morning after I found out I was pregnant, the morning after I found out everything and kicked Fist out of my life, I thought about driving to the nearest city and finding an abortion clinic. But they would’ve taken one look at my battered face and called the cops, and the cops would’ve asked questions about the bruises and cuts on my face and arms—questions I didn’t want to answer. What could I say? Oh, my ex-boyfriend found me and was beating the hell out of me when this guy I’ve only recently met and have been fucking like rabbits with beat the hell out of him. Then I found out they actually know each other through a thriving drug business, officer, so it’s fine. I don’t want to press charges. I snort and roll my eyes. Yeah, I can see that going over well.

Besides, it’s not the baby’s fault. None of this is the baby’s fault. My hands cradle the life growing within me. After another day or two, all thoughts of going to a clinic faded. This is my child, and I will raise it.

After checking the time, I collect my purse and walk the short distance to the diner. I greet Mary, the other morning waitress, and Dale, the cook. Jason, the owner, is usually the cook when I’m working, and I get along fine with him. Dale, on the other hand, gives me a mild case of the creeps. He’s always smirking at me, looking at my legs and ass. And if he’s not ogling me, he’s being a smart-ass know it all, so condescending that it takes everything I have to hold onto my temper. Just my luck, he’s working this morning.

We settle in and get started with the usual routine. Dale heads back to the kitchen to start prepping, Mary begins wiping down the counters and tables and setting out the utensils, and I start the coffee pot we keep by the register and then open the cash bag and count out the morning till. Before long, the scent of coffee and Dale’s applesauce muffins fill the air. He drops two plates, each holding a fluffy muffin, on the counter between the kitchen and the register, and I pluck them off, replacing them with a cup of the black coffee Dale prefers. He grunts his thanks and moves back to the stove. Mary and I take our cups and muffins and go to the back corner table.

I dive in eagerly. Dale may be a dick most of the time, but the man can cook. I moan around a bite of muffin and Mary snickers.

“Bastard can cook,” she comments, sipping her coffee and puffing on her vape—a cloud of cotton candy smoke streams from her nose. “Jason did good hiring him. And you. You’re a hard worker, Mindi. How are you doing?”

I smile. Praise from Mary is rare. “I’m all right. Taking it one day at a time and just waiting for the baby to get here.”

She nods. “If you need anything, you let me know. Guess we’d better cram down these muffins so we can open for business.”

Ten minutes later, the diner is over half full. People tend to flock to The Blackened Skillet for their meals. It’s one of just a few places to get food in the small, out-of-the-way Wolf Creek, Montana. I hear a cheerful, familiar voice and smile as I pour a cup of coffee for Saul Bjornson. He’s a regular, comes in every morning to order three eggs over easy, a double rasher of bacon, and a biscuit smothered with sausage gravy. He’s a logger and swears the hearty breakfast gives him energy.

I place the coffee in front of him as he snags his usual stool at the counter, and he immediately picks it up. “Thanks, sugar. How’s it going?”

“It’s a good morning, Saul. Want your usual?”

“You know it. When are you gonna go out dancing with me, Mindi?”

He smiles as he says it, and I can’t stop my lips from curving in response. It’s a standing joke between us because everyone knows Saul has two left feet and absolutely no rhythm. “A week from Tuesday,” I reply and go to drop off his order ticket. Saul is a true sweetheart, and he always leaves me a hefty tip.

As I continue to take orders and refill drinks, time clicks by. One reason that I prefer the morning shift is that it’s usually so busy. Since hardly anyone but Mary and I actually want to come to work so early, Jason easily agreed to make it my usual shift. I feel my stomach growl, and I realize it’s time for my break. One of the perks of the job is the free food: a muffin before opening, a free meal when we’re working, and all the drinks we want. So, I signal Mary and head back to the kitchen for a quick meal.

Dale is stirring something on the stove, so I open the fridge for a bottle of water and some of the chicken salad Dale made up for the daily sandwich special. I quickly put together a sandwich on wheat bread, asking Dale if he would like one.

“No, thanks,” he tells me as he peeks into the oven. “But there are some individual bags of salt and vinegar chips in the cabinet to my left if you want one.”

I move to the cabinet to grab a bag of them, and I can feel his eyes on my legs and ass as I stretch up to reach them. Then I feel him behind me as his arm reaches above mine and snags a bag.

He smells like grease and bad intentions. I quickly mutter thanks, then retreat to the little table tucked into the corner by the back door. Dale gives me the willies, and I can’t stop the shudder of distaste. As I wolf down my food, I tell myself it will get better. Life will get better eventually. God knows it can’t get much worse.

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