Home > Downfall(11)

Downfall(11)
Author: Jay Crownover

I didn’t say anything. I was lucky I found this place, but I was even luckier that no one from my old life had found it. Granted, who would ever think to look for me here? It was exactly why I’d taken the apartment in the first place. Even if this jerk couldn’t get the AC working, I was staying put. I figured I could stock up on fans if it came down to it.

“It looks like there’s a loose wire so the blower isn’t working to circulate air.” The thermostat came off the wall and the distinct smell of burning plastic wafted from the hole.

I gritted my back teeth, wondering how close we’d come to having the entire place burn down around us.

The landlord played with the wires, still grumbling under his breath, but by the time he screwed the thermostat back into the wall a trickle of cool air was making its way out of the wall unit. It was by no means a refreshing blast of cold, but it was enough to keep the apartment bearable. I wanted to ask about the wiring. I figured I should get some kind of discount for willingly living in a death-trap, but as the older man moved closer to where I was leaning on the chipped laminate countertop, those thoughts fled. I didn’t like the predatory gleam in his eyes, or the way he openly leered at me.

“Your baby daddy isn’t around today?” He wiped his hands on the thighs of his jeans and lifted a thin eyebrow at me.

I cleared my throat and stood up straighter. I needed to get my hands on a taser or remember to keep my pepper spray out, if I was going to keep having run-ins with men who gave me the creeps. “He could be here any minute. He went to pick up our daughter.” I wasn’t a great liar naturally, but when I needed to, I could sound convincing.

“But he isn’t here right now, is he?” When he took another step into my personal space my blood pressure skyrocketed and a quiver of alarm zipped up and down my spine. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed the door to the hallway was still open and I already knew the walls were paper thin. If I screamed bloody murder, someone was bound to hear me. The question was, would anyone care? Or was a woman in distress so common around here that everyone would simply go about their business like nothing happened?

I flinched when one of his fat hands lifted toward my face and touched a loose strand of hair. I jerked my head away and pushed him away with a hand on the center of his barrel chest. “Stop it. You don’t get to put your hands on me.”

He snorted and caught my arm when I tried to move away from him. “If you were nicer to me, it wouldn’t have taken me so long to come and fix your AC. You might want to remember that just in case something breaks in the future. I have the power to make living here very uncomfortable for you and your daughter.”

I bristled at the threat and struggled to pull my arm free. His fingers tightened painfully around my wrist and he pulled until I was pressed up against his sweaty chest. His ugly eyes stayed locked on mine as his other hand reached around and landed on my ass.

I yelped and fought to get free, but the super just laughed and smirked at me. “If you’re really, really nice to me… maybe we can work out something so your rent isn’t quite as much each month.”

I shoved at him and tried to knee him between the legs, but he was ready for the move and used my forward momentum to wrap his arm tightly around me. I was trapped against him, and I could feel his arousal pressing against me. It made me gag. I opened my mouth to scream the whole building down, but immediately a heavy hand was slapped over my lips. I gagged again and continued to struggle as the man ran the tip of his nose over my cheek bone.

“You’re so soft and pretty. I don’t even care that you have a kid. You’re still extremely sexy. We never see many like you around here. By the time they land here, they’re all so jaded. They know better than to let a man like me into their apartment when they’re alone. But you know nothing, and that makes you irresistible.”

Of course, an asshole like him would be turned on by vulnerability and ignorance. He was no better than the thug who tried to assault me the night my car broke down. Around every single corner there seemed to be someone waiting to remind me that I would never be safe, no matter where I tried to hide.

I felt the tip of his tongue slide along the outside shell of my ear and I redoubled my efforts to escape. I swung my hands at his head, catching him with the one still wrapped around my phone. There was a solid thunk as my fist connected with his temple, but he didn’t let me go. Instead, his hands tightened where he held me, and he barked out, “Bitch!”

His mouth moved to my neck and I felt the burn of tears in my eyes. I threw myself backward, sending my purse flying off the counter. It hit the kitchen floor with a thump, making a racket. I was suddenly very happy that I hauled half a toy store around with me most places in case I needed to keep Noble entertained. One of her toys rolled out and started buzzing and beeping as it skidded across the kitchen floor.

The noise was enough to distract the landlord. He loosened his hold enough that I finally managed to connect a knee to his nuts, forcing him to let go completely as he doubled over with a grunt. As soon as I was able, I bolted for the door like the apartment was on fire.

I shouldn’t be surprised that I nearly bounced off Solo’s chest the minute I cleared the doorway. He seemed to have an uncanny knack for showing up right when I needed him the most. His hand wrapped around my upper arms to steady me as I started shaking apart in his gentle hold.

“What’s wrong?” His deep voice was still raspy with sleep and his black eyes and cut lip looked even worse than they had this morning. Even looking like the battered loser of an epic fight, he was still a sight for sore eyes.

I opened my mouth to tell him what happened, but instead of words coming out, a broken sob tore free and the next thing I knew I was being cradled against his massive chest as I cried so deeply it hurt my entire body.

Strong arms wrapped around me and over the top of my head I heard him growl, “What the fuck, Carl?”

The older man replied, “I forgot you lived on this floor, Solomon.”

I heard Solo grunt as he gave me a soft squeeze. “I live next door, you idiot. I heard the commotion through the walls. What did you do to her? If you touched her, I’m going to break every single bone in your body.” The super sputtered as Solo went on. “Then I’m going to wait until they all heal and break them again. I warned you months ago about harassing the female tenants. All you had to do was your damn job, Carl, and we wouldn’t have an issue. How hard is keeping your hands to yourself? I don’t know why people think I’m the type of guy who enjoys repeating himself.”

“I own this building, Solo. Not you.” It was all bluster, and I could hear the fear in the older man’s voice.

The man holding me set me gently to the side, and after asking where my daughter was, he gestured to the apartment next to mine, and quietly ordered, “Go in there and wait for me.”

I nodded, feeling numb and completely off-balance. I was a few steps down the hallway when I heard Solo tell the other man, “You own the building, but I’m the one who keeps the junkies and the drug dealers away from it. I’m the one who keeps the crime to a minimum. You get to charge more and keep this place one step above a tenement because I live here, so don’t for one second think I don’t know which one of us has the power. You can’t threaten me, Carl, and we both know you’re scared to death of me.”

A moment later there was the sound of flesh on flesh, and a moan of pain. Part of me wanted to turn and watch Solo put the aggressive, handsy man in his place while he taught him some much-needed manners. But a bigger part of me wanted to find someplace quiet and safe so I could pull myself back together. It was becoming habit to let Solo take care of everything that seemed broken in my life. It was a bad habit I needed to shake, but right now, it felt too good having someone there to make sure I was all right. It was so nice to have someone to lean on for a change.

Especially when that someone was big, strong, and not afraid of anything. There was some level of comfort in knowing he wasn’t likely to topple over, no matter how heavy the weight of my baggage.

Solo

This wasn’t the first time I’d been forced to set Carl straight about using his position to manipulate the female tenants. He’d tried to pull the same garbage with both Carmen and Erica; they informed me of his ploy when I first moved in. There was also a different, very cute redhead who used to live down the hall that he used to constantly creep on. Luckily, Carmen and Erica could take care of themselves, and the redhead had an older brother who wouldn’t put up with any of Carl’s shit. An older brother who just happened to be my Boss’s childhood friend. The redhead had hooked up with my Boss long before I went to work for him, and on occasion, he still griped about the shithole apartment where he’d found her. By the time I got to the landlord, he should have known to keep his hands to himself and that he wasn’t going to get away with harassing every pretty girl who rented from him. Apparently, Orley’s obvious lack of awareness and general softness had been too tempting for him to ignore.

I wrapped my fist in the front of his shirt and slammed him into the wall near Orley’s front door. His balding head hit the drywall with a satisfying thud, and I grinned when I saw the small hole the impact created. My sore ribs were furious at the sudden movement, but it was so worth the sting of pain. I was still tired, but the rush of adrenaline pushing through my veins was better than a cup of coffee to bring me fully awake. I was still passed out on the couch when I heard the weird sounds coming from Orley’s apartment, so it took me a few minutes longer than it should have to go investigate. I didn’t think she was supposed to be home from work until later in the afternoon, and it never occurred to me Carl would haul his incompetent ass out on a Sunday to fix her AC, even after I bitched at him for a solid ten minutes when I called.

“Couldn’t resist, could you, Carl? You just had to go and put your hands on the new girl.” I slammed him into the wall again and curled my lip in disgust. The motion pulled at the cut bisecting my lower lip and added fuel to the fire of rage flickering under my skin.

   
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