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Pontz sidled up to me in that way he did when he’s got some new info about our next trick, “What’s up with Dani California over there?”

He was talking about the sass queen who grabbed my attention from the moment he arrived. Night before last. Arched eyebrows, cut-offs, ripped fishnets with blood dripping from his knee. An attitude that said he didn’t need any help even while he was asking for a bed and a band-aid. My kryptonite. At this very moment, Dani’s hand, firm on his jutted hip, projected his displeasure about something. He scanned the room. Our eyes met. My eyes bounced first.

“How the hell should I know?” I mumbled, trying to make it sound like I didn’t care. And I didn’t. Not unless Dani was the trick in question.

I loved-hated-loved my role in this ring. Loved because I was the one who got to hook up. Hated because…well, there was always that moment when the guy found out he’d been screwed over. Loved, cause a man in need of consolation was a sweet man, indeed.

“I don’t know who took it,” Dani glared, fist visible in the white lining of the pocket extending below his ragged hem. His friend made a show of reaching around and pulling something out of Dani’s back pocket. A long gold chain with some sort of disk on the bottom. An antique watch, maybe. The kind a hypnotist might use. The kind that might pop open. Dani grabbed for it, shoving it in his front pocket, and then sauntered over, apparently satisfied to know whatever that was remained in his possession.

Not for long, I thought. From the look in Pontz’ eyes, I’d bet money the same thing crossing his mind. I got this, I told Pontz with a jog of an eyebrow. He took that as his cue to leave.

Dani followed me through the swinging stainless steel doors and spoke to my back, “Yeah, so. I guess I’m up for kitchen duty tonight,” His voice was flat like showing up to make soup was beneath him. Or that he was raising some challenge I was expected to meet.

“Then, you’re late. Next time, you get to announce we don’t eat on time.”

Dani checked out the crowd arranging themselves into a haphazard mess line, individuals jockeying to make sure they got fed first, and his smirk disappeared. Whether it was the threat of him facing a few hundred hungry men or the twenty-five-pound bags of carrots I shoved his way, I don’t know. I left him to it and when I came back a few minutes later, I was sorry I did. “What the fuck are you doing?”

“Peeling carrots.”

“Murdering more like,” I said under my breath. “My kitchen, my method and those are not going in my soup.”

I considered how I might stand behind him, wrapping my arms loosely enough to feel the lithe turn of muscle in his shoulder against my ribcage as I showed him how I wanted this done. But I didn’t. I stood next to him, not touching, and showed him now to angle the blade of the peeler to sweep up only the topmost layer of skin. His eyes rolled up from the peeler up my arm, lingering on the open patch at the base of my neck. Pinking, he briefly met my eyes before he looked down to focus on the job at hand and gave me some half-hearted, “Kay.”

After a while, I inquired, “You got something in your pocket?”

His eyelashes fluttered, “Mmm…no, doll. Just happy to see you.”

“Funny.”

Dani rolled his eyes and corrected himself. “Family heirloom.”

Bingo.

“You looked pretty upset when you thought it was gone.”

“Well, I always have it with me. It’s like the only thing of value I have left so…” He left the sentiment unsaid. Plenty of guys walked through these doors with that one last valuable thing. Not many of them kept it. If it wasn’t me taking it off their hands, it would be someone else.

I waited til he was asleep.

Dani was all alone in the small room on the left. The one with four cots, all with matching seafoam Vellux blankets. If he woke with my hand in his pocket, I planned to tell him I was just checking whether he’s still happy to see me. But he won’t wake up; I’ve done this too many times.

As if to mock my thought, he shifted with a light snore and wrapped his upper arm around his lower one in a hug. I froze. His hip pocket pointed skyward. I stood there, visualizing how I might hook my finger around that gold chain. Twenty-four carat, I bet. With diamonds. Something like that and I wouldn’t have to turn another trick for a while. Oh, I’d still turn 'em. I just wouldn’t have to.

I stretched my hand around the opening of his jeans pocket. I inhaled with his inhale, exhaled with his exhale. The warm metal tickled the tops of my fingertips and soon found its way into my palm. The sweet thrill of success was interrupted by a thick zip of ratchet teeth closing around my wrist.

Dani’s black eyes glittered with amusement as he held up more gold in his free hand—a badge. I groaned as he asked me if I was ready to be read my rights.

When he finished, he took back the treasure I’d been so earnestly digging for. “Now, you did all that just for my trusty ol’ compass?”

“But I—“ had nothing to say now that I'd been well and truly caught.

He gave me another once-over. “Queer boy like you taking advantage of your own,” he tsk’d. “Maybe that compass should be yours. After all, it's meant to help people find their way and the way I figure it? You’ve got nothing but time to learn how to use it.”