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Ryan (Mallick Brothers #2)

By:Jessica Gadziala

Ryan (Mallick Brothers #2)
        Author: Jessica Gadziala

       
         
       
        
ONE

Ryan


It was a long fucking day.

To be fair, most of them were.

You didn't get into the loansharking business and expect donut holes in the conference room and bullshitting over the water cooler about some show everyone was currently obsessed with. It was always tense and problematic and continually marred your outlook on the general population as a whole.

I sighed as I brought my arm up to check my watch and saw a smatter of blood on the cuff of my off-white suit. Luckily, my dry cleaner had stopped asking questions a long damn time ago.

I wasn't usually the one doing the blood spilling to be perfectly honest. I handled more of the business-end of things. I did the fucking paperwork and kept the books and paid that first 'you owe us, pay up, or else' visits to clients. From there, I would send Mark. If Mark wasn't effective, then Shane stepped up. And, if after Shane was done with you and you still didn't find the money to pay off your debts, then we would sic Eli on your poor ass.

But, what can I say, I was in a bad mood and the client got mouthy and things escalated. I didn't like having to spill blood on a first visit. I avoided it at all costs, wanting to keep things amicable so long as the client did as well.

That being said, disrespect would never be tolerated.

I stepped out of the elevator and dug for the key to my apartment, looking at the door across the hall from mine, ours being the only two apartments on the floor, and seeing something I didn't often see there, but every time I did, I got that hairs on the back of the neck feeling- I saw men standing at her door.

See, the thing is, I only knew it was a her because I caught sight of blonde hair once when she was picking up one of the dozens of packages she had delivered outside her door every week. How she got the mailman to bring them up to the floor instead of leaving them on the desk by the mailboxes in the lobby was completely beyond me, but the damn guy did it every single time for her.

My neighbor, well, she was some kind of shut-in.

She didn't leave for work. She didn't go out at night. She didn't even run errands.

And she very rarely had any kind of company.

When she did though, it was the guys who gave every appearance of being bad news.

I was a criminal. I spent my life around fellow criminals. I could spot one when I saw one.

The two guys in their leather jackets and their scarred knuckles and their tense stances, yeah, they were fucking criminals.

Hearing the doors of the elevator slide closed, their heads snapped in my direction, looking me over.

They knew me.

I wasn't being cocky, but fact of the matter was, everyone who was anyone in the criminal underbelly in Navesink Bank knew Charlie Mallick. And if you knew my father, you knew his sons. We all looked just like him. Also, if you knew Charlie Mallick, you knew our reputation and that we deserved some respect. Which was why one of the guys inclined their chin at me and the other nodded and said "Mallick" as I walked to my door and slid the key in. 

"Dusty, come the fuck on already," the one who inclined his chin to me growled at the closed door.

I froze halfway in my door, turning back, brow raised.

I'd put up with a lot of shit from a lot of organizations, but threatening women would never fucking fly. I didn't give a fuck who they were.

"I'm coming, Bry!" a soft, sweet voice called from inside as something slammed and crashed and a loud meow could be heard. "I have to put Rocky away!" she added, followed by a loud, objecting noise from the cat and a hiss from her as it, presumably, scratched the fuck out of her.

"Stupid fucking cat," the guy I assumed was Bry said, shaking his head.

"Alright alright," Dusty's sweet voice said and I could hear the locks sliding before it finally pulled open and I got my first look at my neighbor who had shared a floor with me for well over a year.

I'd been missing the hell out.

Generally, you think "shut-in" and you think older with a crazy vibe, maybe disheveled hair and wild eyes.

There was none of that in Dusty Rose McRae whose name I knew from those endless packages I mentioned.

No.

Dusty was a mother fucking knockout.

She was about average height for a woman and ran toward slender, all her curves somewhat understated, but there nonetheless in her light wash bluejeans and a light pink tee. Her blonde hair was long and wavy around her oval face with her perfect nose, slightly oversized lower lip and huge green eyes with a shitton of lashes that, if I put my money on, I'd bet they were hers, not fakes.

Perfect.

She was as close to perfect as I had ever seen.

She gave the guys at the door a somewhat uneasy smile as she held a paper towel to her forearm, bright red blood stripes already wetting it through.

"Sorry, I didn't know you were coming or I would have had him away already," she said, moving out of the way and the men charged inside.

"Just get rid of the damn thing," Bry said, his voice softer, putting his hand on her shoulder to move her out of the doorway. And I wasn't fucking imagining it when her entire goddamn body stiffened at the touch, like every single nerve ending was recoiling from the contact, but she knew she couldn't jerk away so she endured it.

As if sensing my inspection, her gaze drifted to mine, her lips parting slightly, her eyes showing every bit of discomfort and uncertainty she felt in that second, giving me an almost overwhelming urge to charge across the hall, grab the guys by the backs of their jackets, and toss them down the stairwell.

But that was fucking insane.

Before the thought was even fully formed, Bry had moved her out of the way and slammed the door to her apartment.

I stood there for a long moment, trying to convince myself to shake it off, let it go, that it was none of my business what was going on behind her door.

Eventually, that voice won out and I walked into my apartment and closed the door. I flicked on the lights, but I refused to put on music like I usually did.

I tried to tell myself it was because I just wanted silence after a long, noisy day. But that was such a ridiculous lie that I immediately accepted that the real reason was that I wanted to make sure there was no scuffling or yells or anything from across the hall.

You know, just being a good neighbor.

I rolled my shoulders as I peeled off my jacket and hung it in the closet inside the front door where I stored my dry cleaning for my housekeeper or assistant or whatever the fuck she was called to pick up and take care of like she usually did.



       
         
       
        

My apartment was oversized and, if my sister-in-law Fee was to be believed, screamed 'bachelor'.

Would your balls fall off or something if you put a color in here that wasn't brown or black?

That was what she first asked when she stepped inside for the first time.

She wasn't wrong. I definitely chose a dark palate. All the walls in the main space were a deep coffee brown. Directly inside and to the front, the window overlooking the street, was my living space with an L-shaped black sectional facing a black TV stand and large flatscreen. There was a canvas hanging over the short end of the couch, a brown and black and tan abstract piece entitled Aspen that I had found for sale on the wall in a coffeeshop in town. It fit the overall look to the room and at just under five-hundred, it was really a steal for the large size.

Just inside the door to the left, nestled between the dry cleaning closet and the living space was a small nook set back that had three black shelves and a a low black liquor cabinet. On top was my usual bottle of scotch, though I had a whole array of other liquors stored inside. My dock was sitting on one of the shelves beside framed (Fee sent them to me in fucking pink frames that I had Anita, the housekeeper, replace with black) pictures of my three nieces.

Inside the door and to the right was my kitchen with black cabinets and black and white marble countertops.

The hall ran off the kitchen, leading to two bedrooms and the bath. Much to Fee's chagrin, the bath had the same black and white marble as the kitchen and the bedroom was very likely the darkest, blackest room in the whole space.

I found light colors assaulting to the eye.

And after a long day in the kind of work I did, I needed a place to go home and relax in. Even if it did scream 'bachelor'.

The smell of steak met me as I passed into the kitchen.

Now, my mom taught me to cook. In fact, she taught all of us to cook.

I won't be having any son of mine demanding a woman do the cooking all the fucking time. You are going to learn to take care of your damn selves.

That was Helen Mallick for you. Never mind that she did the vast majority of the cooking for us when we were growing up. She claimed that that wasn't the point. The point was we should never expect it to be done for us simply because we were the men and they were the women.

That being said, I almost never cooked. It seemed like a tedious, pointless endeavor to do for myself. Especially when Anita was happy to do it for me. So I almost always came home to a meal cooked and sitting in a warm oven. All except on Saturdays and Sundays when she was off.

I opened my oven and found a slab of steak, roasted potatoes, and an almost obnoxious pile of peas. Anita, being a mother of four grown sons, seemed to like to lump me in with the rest of them and insisted I needed to eat my greens. Something I did because my own mother raised me with the same idea. 

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