Against the Heart

By: Kat Martin

A Kat Martin Novella



CHAPTER ONE




"This isn’t enough, dammit! Come on, Meri, I know you’ve got that money squirreled away someplace and I want it. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll get it for me now!"

Meriwether Jones forced herself to stay focused on Joey Bandini’s face and not the escape she was planning to make, not the car, packed and waiting for her and her daughter in the parking garage under her apartment.

"I don’t have anymore money, Joey. Mrs. Vandermeer wasn’t a wealthy woman."

"Bullshit. Besides what she had in the bank, I bet that old biddy had money stuffed in her mattress."

"She had some savings when she died, and she made sure I got it. But it wasn’t all that much." And what she’d had was almost gone. As soon as Joey had seen the older woman’s obituary in the paper, he had reappeared in her life. He’d been harassing her, demanding money, certain Mrs. Vandermeer had left her a lot more than the small inheritance she’d actually received.

Meri had paid him, hoping he would leave her alone. Instead, she was out of cash and Joey was still the blood-sucking leach he’d been before.

When she’d checked her savings that morning, she’d had five-hundred dollars put away for the trip: four-hundred in twenties in her wallet and an emergency hundred-dollar-bill tucked into the hideaway spot behind her driver’s license.

Then Joey had appeared at her door, grabbed her purse, and stolen all the cash, leaving nothing but her credit card with a three-hundred-dollar limit, and her hideaway hundred-dollar-bill.

She looked at Joey, who kept counting the twenties over and over as if they might multiply in his hand. "Four-hundred bucks? That’s chicken feed. I know she left you plenty. Where’s the rest, Meri?"

"I got eight-thousand total, Joey, just like I said. I spent some of it taking care of Lily. Most of it I’ve given to you."

"I told you to cut the crap. You’ve still got plenty and I need it. If you don’t get it for me, you know what’s going to happen."

A chill slipped through her. He was going to find a way to get to Lily. He had threatened to take her daughter away from her--one way or another.

"Leave Lily alone."

"You want me to leave her alone? Get me that money."

Meri looked at Joey. Five years ago, the night she had met him, Joey Bandini, with his dark hair and long-lashed blue eyes, had been amazingly handsome. If she didn’t know him the way she did now, maybe she would still think he was.

But Meri saw the destruction his alcohol and drug abuse had caused, the slackness in his features, his pale skin, and the hollows in his cheeks. She knew he was a low-life who would do anything to get what he wanted.

She took a calming breath. "Okay, I’ll get you the money. But the bank is closed on Sunday. I won’t be able to get the money until tomorrow." It didn’t matter what she told Joey. She wasn’t going to be there when he came back to collect. "Meet me here at noon. I’ll have the money for you then."

"I’ll be here at eleven and you better have at least a couple of thousand. You don’t, Lily comes with me."

Meri suppressed a shudder. It was hard to imagine that the man standing in front of her was Lily’s father. Amazing how just one night--one stupid night--could change your life forever.

"I said I’d get you the money. Now get out of here and leave me alone."

Joey tucked the roll of twenties into the pocket of his black leather jacket. "Tell Lily her daddy sends his love."

Turning away from Joey’s grinning face, Meri walked back into her apartment and firmly closed the door. Trembling as she stood at the window, she watched until Joey and two of his no-good friends got into Joey’s beat-up Ford and disappeared.

Unfortunately, tomorrow they’d be back for the money she didn’t have. Her girlfriends at work had tried to get her to call the police, but Meri didn’t trust the cops, hadn’t since was a teenager, shunted from one foster home to another. Back then, a lot of her problems had been her own fault, but even now, trust didn’t come easy.

And the hard truth was, Joey was Lily’s father--DNA would prove it. Meri didn’t know what the police might say about that and she wasn’t sticking around to find out.