Jason approached the ramshackle shelter, a couple of fish in a burlap sack tied to his belt. He’d had a good day fishing, catching far more than he and Shannyn would be able to eat in the next day. As usual, whenever he had something to spare, he found a neighbor to give it to. He’d seen this couple around a few times, had even given the guy some fishing tips.
He knocked on the door and a few moments later, a young woman with an obvious baby bump appeared in the door way. As soon as she saw him, her face paled.
“Rick,” she called in a shaky voice.
Jason tried to make himself look kind and unthreatening; though he’d met Rick, his wife didn’t know Jason from anybody. “I’m Jason, I live – “
“We know who you are,” Rick said as he came up from the basement. “Hasn’t your woman done enough to us? Just leave us alone.”
A frown furrowed Jason’s brow. “Shannyn? What has she done? I just wanted to offer you some fish.”
Rick came to stand in front of his wife protectively. “You know damn well she was here this morning to collect the protection money.”
His frown deepened. Like everyone else, Jason and Shannyn had to pay for the mob’s rather dubious “protection.” After they’d managed to pay their legitimate bills, someone from the mob showed up and demanded everything else they had – as recompense for keeping them safe from marauders and whatever other danger was out there. “You must be mistaken. Shannyn was at work this morning.”
Rick snorted derisively. “Either you’re lying or blind. Get away from us. We haven’t got anything left to give.”
“I swear; I’ve got no idea what you’re talking about – but I’m leaving.” Jason backed away from the small home and made sure they’d shut the door before he turned his back on it and headed back towards home.
They had to be crazy, right? He knew Shannyn wasn’t the nicest of people, but she wouldn’t steal from people. They were able to get by, even having to give the mob everything they’d earned every bill cycle.
A sick thought curdled his stomach. Was that how they were getting by? Was Shannyn lining their pockets with money she’d threatened out of their neighbors?
He jogged home, dropping the bag of fish as he went inside. He found Shannyn at the chess board, staring ponderously at the worn wooden pieces.
“I really kind of hate this game,” she muttered by way of greeting. “Who do I have to kill to get a television?”
She was always saying things like that. For the first time, he wondered if she was actually joking.
“Shannyn, I just went up the road to drop off some extra fish. Have you met Rick and his wife? Young couple, expecting a kid.”
She looked up and her striking violet eyes met his. “I guess they weren’t happy to see you, huh.”
He was shocked. She didn’t even try to deny it! “What did you do, Shannyn? We don’t need their money!”
“I did my job,” she said in a hard voice. “I pity those people – they are weak.” She rose to her feet. “But I’m not, and I’m fucking doing something out there to keep us safe – and that us includes you now, Jason.”
“What the hell are you talking about? Are you – oh, my God, are you working for the mob?” Why else would she be out there collecting protection money?
“Yes,” she admitted. “The only real power in this town is with them. I make sure we’re protected.”
“If you’re working for them, why are we paying the protection money?”
“Because I’m working for them. They’re not working for me – yet,” she said, a steely glint in her eye. “I’ll get there, one day.”
Jason shook his head, pacing around the confined space. “What are you planning to do, Shannyn? Kill your way to the top?”
“If I have to. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve taken a life.”
He stared at her in shock. “What?”
Shannyn looked at him, utterly unrepentant. “I do what I need to do, Jason. I always have. I was going to go my own way after the Event happened. I grew up in the life, but everything changed when the town fell. But then Kayne happened. The only way to keep us safe is the mob. That’s the reality, Jason.”
He dropped down onto the sofa. His stomach churned, threatening to heave up the lunch he’d had a few hours ago. “So you’re totally fine with killing people?” He could understand her determination to keep them safe; what he couldn’t understand were her methods. “There has to be a better way.”
Her tone was as hard as granite. “There isn’t. This is the new world order, Jason. I’m going to keep doing what’s necessary. If you don’t like it – “she pointed at the door “– there’s the door. Good fucking luck out there.”
He stared at her for a long minute. He took in the hard set of her face, the coldness in her eyes. She would absolutely let him walk out of there. Did she care about him at all? He’d thought there was something more than physical attraction between them. Not that he was even sure he wanted even that with her anymore.
He almost did it. Almost got up and walked right out of the door. Part of him couldn’t stomach the thought of living under the same roof as a murderer. But then he thought of what was out there waiting for him. There was nowhere to live. He had no one he could turn to. It was almost impossible to find shelter anymore.
Shannyn…as much as he hated what she did, she’d never hurt him before. She saw him as an ally, someone to help her keep Kayne safe. And Kayne…There was no way he could leave that kid. He loved that little boy.
“I’ll stay,” he said in a low voice. “But that doesn’t mean I approve of what you’re doing.”
“I don’t need your approval, Jason.” She took a seat next to him. “For what it’s worth, I’ve tried to avoid our neighborhood. I didn’t get a choice this cycle.” She shrugged. “It wasn’t exactly a highlight of my career taking that little bit of cash from those two.”
He smiled weakly. “So you might actually have a heart under that tough exterior.”
Shannyn rolled her eyes. “Bite your tongue.”