“Hello, Phoebe,” Zach said, sidling up to her where she was laying out paper plates and napkins to go along with the pizza they’d ordered for lunch. He and his gang had come to the animal shelter several times before, always trying to get Phoebe to go out with him.
From what Gus had heard, Phoebe was not interested and calmly refused Zach every time he came by. This was his first visit since Gus had started his service assignment.
Zach must not have heard Gus was here, and Gus was just out of his line of sight. He paused with his hand lifting a leash back onto a hook on the wall just outside the breakroom, then tucked himself further into the shadows, listening to their conversation.
“Pleasure to see you as always, Zach,” Phoebe said in a bored, monotone voice. “Could you make yourself useful and grab that bag of ice from the freezer and a two-liter of Coke from the fridge?”
“Anything for you, babe.”
Gus heard the freezer door open and then the refrigerator and then a crunching thud as Zach placed the bag of ice on the table.
“Wanna knock off early and come to my house for the afternoon?” Zach asked, a nauseating suggestiveness to his tone.
“No thank you,” Phoebe said with a surprisingly casual tone. “I’m working.”
“How about after work?”
“How about you get your hands off me?” she snarled at him.
That was Gus’s cue. Zach didn’t notice Gus coming around the corner into the room and he leaned against the wall just inside the door frame. Zach had removed his hands from where they’d been resting on Phoebe’s hips, but he was still uncomfortably close to her.
“Come on, babe, you know you’ve always wanted to get with this.” Zach took a step back and held out his arms as if displaying his hot bod to her in all its glory. Gus almost snickered but waited to see how Phoebe would handle this on her own. She wasn’t the type to act the part of damsel in distress and Gus wanted to give her the chance to put Zach in his place.
“I prefer men a little larger in stature than… that.” Phoebe looked him up and down in disgust. Gus wanted to laugh out loud but one of Zach’s gang members beat him to it.
“Slam. She got you.”
“Whatever,” Zach said. “We’ll hook up eventually and you’ll be glad we did.”
“Not likely,” Phoebe mumbled, then glanced up and realized Gus was in the room. In a move he was sure was strategically designed to call off Zach and his advances, Phoebe strolled right up to Gus and reached her arms around his shoulders, saying in a fake, husky voice. “I’m so glad you’re here, Gus.”
“What’re you doing slumming it on our side of the tracks?” Zach asked. “Don’t you got enough land and chicks of your own? You gotta come down here and try to steal ours?”
Gus took full advantage of having Phoebe in his arms and pulled her close, running his hands down the length of her silky mane and looking into her eyes. Gus knew she was just pretending to like him to get rid of Zach, but he raised his eyebrows subtly, having the strong desire to lower his face to hers and kiss her until she forgot they were standing in a stinky kennel surrounded by dog crap and gang members.
A vision ran through Gus’s mind’s eye of him and Phoebe lying on the beach near his great-grandfather’s home in Cancun, taking a much-needed break from days of lovemaking, holed up in their honeymoon suite.
Her eyes strayed to his lips and Gus fought the need to kiss her. No longer a conquest as she’d been when they’d first met, she had Gus wrapped around her fingers. He couldn’t have pushed her away if he’d wanted to, which he definitely did not.
“Dang, you guys need to get a room,” Zach said, grabbing a slice of pizza. “That’s disgusting.”
“Disgusting was not the word I was thinking,” Gus whispered.
“Me neither.” She gulped.
Gus refused to allow their first kiss—well, their first kiss now that they were speaking to each other again after the way he’d offended her the night they’d met—to be in response to a derogatory comment made by a thug like Zach. Still Gus didn’t pull away, and neither did she.
“Anyway, nice of you to stop by, Your Highness,” Zach said, then brushed past them and down the hall toward the dog cages. His gang members followed with insulting grumbles, until Phoebe and Gus were alone in the breakroom.
She started to pull away, but Gus held her firmly against him, insisting, “I’m not making the same mistake twice. You’re not getting away this time.”
After a few seconds of futile resistance, Phoebe settled into his arms and lifted her gaze. She gulped and glanced at Gus’s lips again.
There was barking and chaos down the hall as dogs began leaving their cages, escaping their confinements and running toward the now-open door at the end of the hall, Zach and his friends laughing as they scattered the charges.
Phoebe and Gus ran after them, their moment ruined again.