Well hello there darlings. It's one o'clock in the morning, I'm very bored, I thought I would share something that's been sitting on my hard drive for a while. Keep in mind, this is all that's been sitting on my hard drive. So far I can't really promise too much commitment to this story, nor do I have any other chapters written. But who knows! It's a pretty story to think about, I'd like to add onto this chapter if I can get around to it.
If you are not harmed or offended by terrible cliches, then great! This is a love story centered around an unrealistically-beautiful heir to a Russian mafia! You're gonna love it maybe!
(If you are offended by shitty cliches, I don't care. Terribly sorry, you should probably just leave this website altogether.)
Rating might jump to M if I keep writing, not sure yet.
The bell above the door of the small bookshop jingled cheerfully as the door slammed open, letting in a furious howl of wind and a gust of something wet that might have been rain at some point but only sounded like a spray of liquid bullets against the window panes now. Kat glanced up from the counter at the two who had just stumbled inside. "Welcome to Secondhand," she recited. The words were automatic, and Kat had turned back to her book before the phrase was entirely out of her mouth. The woman, with red hair piled in a beehive on top of her head, nodded politely, placed her blue and green umbrella on the rack by the door, and hurried towards a back section of the store. The man ignored Kat, and shook out his hair like a dog, spattering the nearest books with water. She set her lips in a line, shot him a glance she knew he wouldn't bother to see. The weather had been doing that, lately; bringing in all sorts of people who just wanted a dry roof for the moment and didn't really care that the mud they tracked in had to be cleaned by…well, by Kat.
The man traipsed off to the religion section.
She swore under her breath and looked back to the pages in her hands. Some people.
It was hardly another five minutes before the bell jingled again. "Welcome to Secondhand."
The tall, gangly boy who had entered this time shrugged off a wind breaker and threw it onto the rack, cursing as he slipped a bit in the puddle of water he had created and pulling foggy glasses off his face. "I don't need your welcome," he grumbled. "This rain is fucking offensive."
Kat didn't even glance at him. "You're—"
"Late, late, I know, it's the weather."
"You live five minutes away, Landry."
"Yes." He jumped over the counter and shook his hair out as he made his way through a doorway to a room in the back.
Kat moved a pile of books away from the streak of water he had left on the counter and turned towards the direction he had walked off in, leaning back on her elbows. "You're like twenty minutes late."
"What? Twenty?" She could hear him rustling through his employee locker, his voice muted through the walls. "Are you sure?"
"Mmm." She turned back around and directed her attention towards her book again.
"I can't help it, it's this rain." He reappeared in the doorway, a towel draped around his shoulders and head tilted at a 90 degree angle. He was wearing a namebadge on a lanyard around his neck now and his glasses were clear. He shook his head some and hit the opposite ear. "It's—"
"Offensive, I know." Landry McKinnon knew one and only one negative adjective, and it was "offensive."
"Well, since I'm so late, care to fill me in on the latest used bookstore drama?" Landry gestured around the currently (and consistently) near-empty shop. "I know how crazy this place can be."
"Well, let's see…Mrs. Haverford is reading erotica in the history section again," Kat gestured to the quivering red beehive just visible over the top of a shelf in the corner of the shop. "Some asshole came in to track mud and get all my books wet," She didn't know where he'd gone, but she nodded to the stream of water that disappeared between two shelves. "And Jim called to see how business was going. I had to tell him it was going wonderfully, and that I'd sold all of six books today."
"How did he take it?"
"I softened the blow by asking for a raise first."
Jim Ortholdoff was a little old man who had owned and (occasionally) operated Secondhand Books since before either Kat or Landry were even born, he repeatedly claimed. They didn't see him often, but it wasn't out of the ordinary for him to call the store phone grumbling about this and that, and how was business going, and that was just terrible, Kat, what do you mean you've only sold that many books today, and tell Landry to straighten up that hair of his, he looked like a troubled youth and was certainly scaring all the decent folk away and if you could just keep your nose out of a book while you're working, Kat, no one wants to buy anything from someone who looks as unexcited for human interaction as you do. But he never failed to sign their paychecks or let Kat "borrow" books, and so Kat and Landry usually took such encouragement to mean, "decent job, you two, keep up the good work."
Landry joined Kat at the counter, shaking his hair out again and landing droplets of water all over Kat's book. "Landry—"
"What? I told you, I can't help it—"
"On the book, Landry, Christ," she spat, moving her book away from Landry. "Can you not?"
Landry laughed. "What, you don't like it when I get too close to your book while I'm all wet?" He all but pressed himself against her. "Like this?" He put the side of his face right up against hers and held up a lock of her hair to the crown of his head. "Look, wow, my hair is so wet still it almost matches yours." Landry's normally chestnut-colored hair was so dark with water it was almost impossible to tell where it ended and Kat's onyx locks began.
"Goddammit Landry, that's freezing!" Kat pulled away and hit him upside the head with a nearby encyclopedia.
"Ah," he gasped and backed away. "Fine," he chuckled, cradling the back of his head. He stooped so Kat could pull the towel from around his shoulders and vigorously rub her left sleeve, which had been left soaking from its contact with Landry. "Do you need me to do anything anyways?"
"Yeah, keep away from me until you're drier," Kat grumbled, still dabbing at her sleeve. "And if you want you can sort those onto the cart." She nodded at a stack of books at the other end of the counter beside a half-empty cart.
"So I do all the work while you sit there and read?" Landry sighed dramatically as he picked up the first book and filed it onto the cart. "Something about that doesn't seem right to me."
But Kat had already buried her nose back into the pages. "Feels just right to me," she murmured.
The bell above the door jingled again, and another gust of wind blew Kat's hair away from her face. "Welcome to Secondhand," she repeated, leaning her face on her hand. Her eyes flicked up to see if it was perhaps Jim—and she froze. She heard Landry swear and drop the book he was holding, which he dove to recover.
The two men who had walked in were not men Kat had ever spoken to before, but she knew them just the same as the rest of Stanton knew them—as men you had better keep away from if you had any inkling of sense. The first one through the door had hair the color of ichor and a clear, honest face, and was just taller than Kat, but shorter than the other one. He strode through the door as if he had known this place since before the foundation had even been laid, and when he caught Kat's eye he relaxed into a feline grin. He slowly made his way up to the counter and leaned forward onto his forearms. "Hello krasivaya," he winked. He spoke brightly, as if he had all the time in the world. Kat dared not look away, and she was not sure she would be able to if she wanted to anyways. "I had no idea such a pretty thing was hiding in this musty old place, did you, Alexei?" He turned towards his counterpart.
The other boy who had walked into her store had joined the blonde at the counter, but looked nowhere near as invested in Kat as his friend did. In fact, he looked more distracted than anything, subtly craning his neck to see over the shelves in the small store. "Now's not the time, Jakob," he murmured. His voice was all rich, low, chocolate tones that Kat could practically feel in her own chest when he spoke. While the first boy was all gold and light, this one was dark—dark hair and dark eyes and olive skin. Kat was frozen somewhere between indignant rebellion and pure petrification. Landry had already (smartly) chosen submissiveness, and had averted his eyes away from the pair and quietly continued to sort the books.
Jakob ignored the both of them, and shot a charming smile towards Kat. "You'll have to excuse my friend here, he doesn't know when to take a break from business for pleasure. And this is all pleasure, I can assure you," he purred, holding out his hand as his "friend" slipped away into the shelves. Kat immediately felt a sense of discomfort settle over her not knowing exactly where he was. "Jakob Vasilyev."
She knew who he was. "Ahm," Kat parted dry lips. Did she dare refuse him? She could feel Landry's eyes boring into the side of her head. The answer was no. "Kat. Um…Kat Monroe." She spoke quietly, reaching out to meet his hand.
Jakob Vasilyev brought her hand to his lips and kissed her knuckles. His lips were warm. Kat had nearly expected marble. "The pleasure is all mine, Ms. Monroe."
Kat pulled her hand back as gently as she could when his lips left her skin. She was vaguely aware of Landry somewhere off to her right, still sorting books onto the cart. Landry, she thought hard. I could really use some of that knight-in-shining-armor shit right about now. But Landry remained oblivious to her distress call. Kat forced a smile at Jakob Vasilyev. "Can I help you with anything?"
His grin widened. "Oh, I do hope so."
No. God, no, wrong question. Why had she asked. There had to have been another way to phrase it.
He leafed through a random book he picked up off the counter. "I must confess, I didn't originally come here to see beautiful women, though now that I'm here I find it difficult to want to do anything else."
"Oh? And why did you originally come here?" The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them and she felt the entire shop freeze. The book Landry was holding fell from his hands, but he didn't drop to retrieve it. Jakob examined her, and just as he opened his mouth to respond—
"To buy books, of course." Kat nearly jumped when the other man Jakob had walked in with reappeared from the shelves. He was holding a battered copy of A Farewell to Arms and nodded politely at Kat as he placed it on the counter before her. "Just that, please."
"Of course," she replied automatically, mind racing as she picked up the book to scan it. After all, Jakob and Alexei Vasilyev did not simply step out on the town and peek into some dingy little shop to buy books. What kind of business was an Ernest Hemingway novel? Why hadn't they just had one of the many servants go out and get it for them? The Vasilyevs owned Stanton, most of New York City, and probably a good half of the New York state itself. Children knew their name. Before Kat had graduated high school, the girls had dreamed about one day sharing their name until stern fathers and hysterical mothers set their heads straight. You stay away from Vasilyev, do you understand? Look at me. Do not go near them. Do not even think about them.
Are you listening to me?
They are Mafia.
"Yes, books. And then some." Jakob turned towards Alexei, his voice oddly light. "Did you find our friend?"
"I did indeed." The other man shot him a hard look. His voice lowered, but he smiled—He had dimples. Kat tried not to look.—and clapped Jakob casually on the back. "Seven o'clock. Three seconds."
Jakob's warm exterior dimmed and something in his eyes became cold. "Well, Ms. Monroe, like I said," he reached into his jacket and Kat heard a click. "It's been a pleasure."
Something about the click of the gun inside Jakob Vasilyev's jacket snapped Kat out of the trance she had been in since they two men had entered. Her anxiety spiked and she jumped. "Whoa! Whoa! What? No!"
Everything was quiet. Landry nearly tripped over the cart this time and sent an entire stack of books to the floor. "Kat," he hissed, alarmed.
Alexei's glare was immediate and biting, and almost as bewildered as the expression Jakob wore on his face. "Excuse me?"
"No! Absolutely not!" Kat lowered her voice just as someone emerged from the shelves. It was the man who had entered just after Mrs. Haverford, the one who had tracked the mud in. "No one is going to be killed, shot, maimed, or otherwise injured in my shop! I have a reputation to uphold with my boss and—and I am not going to lose my job over some fuck who didn't pay you whatever money he owes you! You will wait to conclude your business until you are out of my shop!"
Alexei was still glaring at her, his eyes becoming more and more difficult to read with each passing second. Jakob's face was ice. "Alexei, he's getting away." The man was halfway across the lobby now, walking quickly towards the door. "Alexei—"
"Am I understood?"
"Alexei—!" Jakob's hand moved in his jacket.
"No, Jakob," Alexei's utter was nearly inaudible. His hard gaze stayed on Kat. "No, your krasivaya makes an arguable point."
Zero. The man walked out the door, the bell jingling as he left. "Fuck!" Jakob shouted, his curse lost in the gust of wind that blew into the shop. He pulled the gun from his jacket and slammed it on the counter—Kat's heart stopped for a moment and her hand flew to her chest—spinning around as if to make after him and then thinking better of it and sighing through his nose, running his hands through his hair. "We've been chasing him all goddamned day, Alexei, we're not going to get him anywhere as empty as here!"
"I'm sure we'll manage, Jakob." He was still looking at Kat.
"I'm cold and wet and—"
"I said, we'll manage, Jakob." He began to turn away from the counter. "I'm sure we can talk to our friend on some other errand."
"Fine." Jakob gritted out, stomping back to the counter to grab the handgun and stuff it back into his jacket. He spared one last look back at Kat, who was frozen again now that her momentary bravery had disappeared. He gave a single, quiet laugh. "Well, Ms. Monroe, I can't say you haven't surprised me." He turned and strode out the door without another glance at either Alexei or Kat. (Or Landry, who was all but hiding behind the cart now.)
Alexei began to follow his partner out the door, and Kat found her voice. "Sir," Sir? Mr. Vasilev? Your honor?
"Ah…your book?" She held up A Farewell to Arms.
He took a moment to stare at it and Kat wondered for a moment if she was being stupid. Just as she was about to pretend she hadn't said anything and throw the book onto the cart for Landry to sort, Alexei slowly walked back to the counter, footfalls heavy on the carpet of the lobby. Kat couldn't read the look in his dark eyes—was he going to kill her? Break her arm? Terrify her into silence?
Alexei Vasilyev took the worn book from her hand and slid something under her other hand, which lay on the counter next to her abandoned novel. "Keep the change," he said quietly. And then he was gone, out the door following his cousin. The bell above the door jingled, unaware of the gravity of what had just transpired, and the door slammed shut, ending the howl of wind and sending the bookshop into stunned silence.
Landry leaned forward onto the counter, moving slowly, slowly, his head falling into his hands. "You interfered."
"You interfered. With Vasilyev business." He cursed under his breath. "They have your name, Kat."
She was silent. "Jim would have been pissed."
Landry sighed. "He'll still be pissed. Ah, Kat. You're going to go get yourself killed someday." He stepped around the counter towards one of the windows, lifting a corner of one of the blinds and peering outside.
"Don't sound so excited." Kat's heart was slowing down to normal tempo now, and she leaned back over the counter above her book, trying to find her place on the page.
"I'm serious. What do you think, they're just going to let you go fine and dandy? You know that's not how it works." He lowered the blind and walked back to the counter, pausing and leaning next to Kat. He crossed his arms. "Are you alright anyway?"
"Yeah, I'm fine." She swept some hair behind her ear. "Don't worry about it."
He grimaced. "You're pale and you're shaking." She didn't say anything. "Maybe you should go home for the day."
She scoffed. "Don't be stupid."
"No, I'm serious. I can handle things here. I'll call you if I have to sell a book, God forbid." He rubbed her arm. "Go home, Kat."
She sighed and closed her book, starting when something crinkled in her hand. She looked down at her palm, vaguely remembering the darker Vasilyev slipping something into it. "Keep the change."
Neatly folded up into her palm were two hundred dollar bills.
Kat hadn't felt strange walking home. She had half-expected to feel eyes on the back of her neck or someone to pull her into an alleyway and show her what her brains looked like spattered on the wall behind her, but the walk home had never felt more normal. The rain had died down some, and she only needed to pull her hood up over her face. Secondhand was strategically sandwiched between two other shops right in the middle of Stanton's only strip, really. For their proximity to the Big Apple, Stanton was a small town, and Kat waved hello and goodnight to the other shopkeepers on the street as she passed, stopping at the pharmacy when Ms. Matilde flagged her down to give her a stapled-shut bag to "pass on to your father, he forgot to pick it up this morning—and don't let him forget to take them, you hear, child?"
Kat dropped it on the kitchen counter when she got home next to her coat and purse. She called out a hello, habitually opened the fridge to see if any new food had miraculously appeared, which, incidentally and unsurprisingly, none had. Something purred and rubbed against her leg, and she reached down to scratch the cat behind the ears as she let the fridge door swing shut. "Hello, Darling," Kat murmured.
"Kat?" A cough. "That you?"
"Yes," Kat called, making her way to the living room. "Landry sent me home early, I wasn't feeling well." It wasn't a lie, technically. She had been pale and shaking, according to Landry.
John Monroe wasn't old, per se, but he had some gray tones beginning to color his hair and his face was lined. It was just him and Kat now in the little house—and Darling, of course. He forgot, sometimes, that it was only him and Kat. Sometimes Kat would walk through the front door, sighing and already starting to rattle on about her day and his heart would just stop for a moment, seeing only a flash of dark hair and porcelain skin and the profile of her face as she hung her things up and he could absolutely swear to God that it wasn't Kat who had walked in, but her mother. But then she would pause for breath and give him a strange look, ask if he was feeling alright, and he would see that there was a light dusting of freckles across her cheekbones and her eyes were hazel, like his, and it was Kat after all.
He remained seated now on the couch with his book, and stared at his daughter when she walked into the room holding Darling against her chest. He sighed and took off his reading glasses, folding them up and placing them on the nightstand. "Yeah. Landry called."
Kat stopped in her tracks on the way to her room, turning slowly to look strangely at John. "What did he say?"
He raised a curious eyebrow, eyeing her strangely right back. "That…you weren't feeling well? And that he sent you home. And to keep an eye on you."
"Ah," she nodded, turning back towards the hallway. She cleared her throat, gathering Darling closer to her chest. "Well, ahm, you forgot to pick up your prescription from the pharmacy this morning. Ms. Matilde wasn't happy with you. It's on the counter."
"Alright, thanks for picking it up." He reached over for his reading glasses again. "Oh, one more thing," he called after her as he slipped them on.
Kat stopped again. "Hm?"
"A letter came for you a little before you got here. I didn't want to open it. I left it in your room."
Kat nodded before dreadfully turning the knob to her room, something inside her chilling as she scanned the small space for a white envelope—she found it laying in the center of her bed. She moved towards it slowly, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth. She let Darling jump from her arms onto the bed, and she purred and rubbed her head against the envelope.
"No, Darling—stop that—tss—!" Kat swatted at her until she moved away from the paper. "Dammit, darling," she hissed out. "Jesus. Stop that." When Darling didn't keel over from some unnamed poison, however, and instead brooded away into Kat's pillows, Kat sighed, sinking into the bed next to the envelope. She reached for it, tore open the wax seal, and nearly dropped it. There was no flowery indictment on the paper she had pulled out of the startlingly white envelope; no long, furious letter, no warrant for her death or kidnapping or…or anything. Just one sentence, neatly written out in ink. Kat's heart pounded once and then stopped.
We'll be in touch.
I'll take reviews if you've got 'em.