by Shari J. Ryan
on May 17, 2018 Cover Design: MadHat Books Goodreads
Also by this author: Man Flu
I was young, innocent, and looking to start my career in psychology. However, it turned out I was in the wrong class, with the wrong professor, at the wrong time. One decision to become an apprentice changed my entire life.
After being left with nothing, including my true identity, money, family, and friends, I was evicted from my apartment. I knew I’d have to run and hide while struggling with starvation, but then a shady job offer became an appealing option in the midst of my desperation.
I was fully aware of the risks involved, but I’m well versed in reading people and assuming their intentions. Therefore, I was confident I wouldn’t end up being that woman who ran into a trap that was decorated with luxurious accommodations and high-class amenities. I also wasn’t the type to reach for bait disguised as a gorgeous man with lust pooling in his eyes.
As it turns out, though … I was wrong about everything—almost everything.
I fell into the rabbit hole where nothing was as it seemed from the outside, and I had no clue I was the puppeteer of it all.
, The Man Handler
, Darkest Perception
A bad instinct dragged my ass to Hotel Long Wharf where that freak told me to go. I’m at this low point in my life where I have little care for my wellbeing in comparison to the necessities I need. Despite the fact that I didn’t agree to meet this Axel person at the hotel, I’m going to scope out the situation and see what he looks like. Plus, after freezing to death for the last hour, the idea of being inside of a hotel carelessly carries me through the revolving glass doors where I find an empty bar and an inviting place to sit for a while.
This hotel is nice, upscale, and looks like it was built with hands made of gold, which means I stick out like a puddle of mud on a shiny clean floor.
“Can I help you, Miss?” a man, decked out in a bell-hop uniform, asks me. “Are you lost, maybe?”
“I’m just waiting for someone,” I tell him and look away to avoid any further communication.
With an overwhelming sensation of displacement and unease, I spin around, taking in more of my surroundings as I enter the bar area. Maybe I could just sleep in one of the corners of this place tonight. God, the thought of sleeping at a shelter terrifies me. Before this past year, I never imagined the possibility. It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve managed to dodge that bullet for so long now that I have to try my best to find another solution.
“There’s a coffee shop next door, Miss. I might recommend you wait there.” The bellhop sneaks up behind me while I’m deciding where to sit in the bar area. Was he following me? Do I look that bad? It’s bad enough to be viewed the way I am, even after living this way for so long, but to be followed and given the look this guy is giving me, I just give up without a fight.
“Thanks, that’s actually what I was looking for,” I lie. I turn on my heels and rush through the connecting doors into Starbucks. The problem here is, I don’t have money to buy anything, which qualifies this visit as loitering—especially in this particular area of Boston. The shelter is becoming more of a reality every minute longer I try to deny the inevitable.
I make it twenty minutes before one of the staff asks me to either make a purchase or leave. At least I lasted here longer than I expected I would. I stand up from the comfortable leather chair I was lounging. When I grab my things and turn toward the door, a man steps in front of me. He’s taller, and close enough that it’s obvious his proximity is purposeful. The line to order is on the other side of the shop and no one else is in this little corner except for me.
“You must be the desperate degree.” His voice is deep and guttural, but placid .
I glance up, finding a solidly sculpted man in front of me. He’s dressed in what appears to be an expensive midnight blue suit—one that shimmers under the cool ambient lighting. In contrast, his white dress shirt nearly glows against his lightly tanned skin. I feel frozen as I continue observing every one of his features. His eyes are unmistakably green, but like early spring grass with a hint a yellow, and his dark hair is shaven short on the sides with a bit of length on top. If this man is Axel, he doesn’t look anything like I expected him to.
“Are you Axel?” I ask him, pointedly.
“No, I’m John, and I enjoy looking for random, desperate women with degrees in the middle of Starbucks. Of course, I’m fucking Axel,” he says with a slight twitch in his right eye.
“Okay then, John, or whoever you are, what do you want with me? Wait, let me guess. I’m told to meet you at a hotel because you can’t convince a chick to go upstairs with you on her own free will? How much does this pay, anyway?”
He cocks his head to the side as if he’s trying to figure me out. “First, I’m not searching for a good time, honey. Second, I don’t need to pay for a woman’s time. Third, I’m interviewing prospective employees for a business proposition.”
“What’s the position?”
“Well, since we wouldn’t want to waste a degree on prostitution, I’m sure there’s a better title we can come up with.”
“Awesome,” I chide.
“Follow me over to the hotel,” he says, taking a step away.
“That hotel?” I point to the connecting door between Starbucks and the lobby. “I’m not going into a hotel with you. I don’t care what title you come up with. I’m not into that shit.”
“Fine. No interview,” he says, straightening his jacket.
“Just so you know, I’m almost positive men don’t interview prostitutes. So, you sound ridiculous.”
“Jesus. I’m not looking for sex. I’m interviewing for a business position.”
“Fine. Then can have the interview either here, or outside,” I tell him.
“On the street?” he questions.
“Yes, unless you’d like to take a seat and interview me right here.”
“I didn’t ask for you to meet me at Hotel Long Wharf so we could sit in the loud coffee shop next door, nor did I intend to freeze outside,” he says.
“There’s like no one in here. It’s not loud at all.” I shake my head, trying to figure this guy out. I can’t help feeling intrigued by what he has to say, but seriously … this place is probably quieter than anywhere in that hotel. “Plus, I can’t just walk through that hotel. I’m not dressed appropriately.” I cross my arms over my chest. “Oh, and maybe if you’d like someone to follow you into a random hotel, you should give them your name or some kind of information on whatever it is you’re looking for. You’re not very good at this whole interviewing thing, are you?”
“There is a restaurant to the side of the lobby. If I try to take you anywhere but there, feel free to scream and make a scene,” he tells me, sounding annoyed by my lack of passiveness. “No one will say anything about your clothing while you’re with me.”
“Great,” I tell him, still debating on what I should do. If I don’t follow him, I’m walking my butt right down to the shelter because there really are no other options tonight.
“What’s it going to be?”
While I can likely cross rape or prostitution off this list of ‘what-if’s,’ it doesn’t give me any insight to what this job is for. He’s clearly done waiting on my answer as he takes a few steps away. I can either watch a smidge of hope walk away, or I can take another risk—one that will likely end as poorly as the last one did. This time, I have nothing to lose, though.
“Fine,” I mutter, following him outside, rather than through the interior entrance to the hotel. “Just so you know, I can scream real loud, so—”
He stops short in front of me just before stepping beneath the golden overhang in front of the hotel’s revolving door. “Can you now?” he asks with a wink.
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