Chapter 1: Maad City/Heartaches
"Respect my mind or die from lead shower"
“You out of your fucking mind? Absolutely not .”
“Why not? She has all the skills we lookin’ for, she can handle herself.”
“ She being the key word. We don’t involve females if we don’t have to.”
“Holly was an exception, and she fucked it up, in case you forgot.”
“Yet you still smashed...”
Ray leaned back, fixing Enson with a glare that quickly shut the other man up. Though they’d grown up together, there were times when Enson still didn’t know when to keep quiet, and bringing up the whole mess involving Ray, Nick, and Holly was one of them. While he had recruited his girlfriend to help in getting much-needed information out of the cop, Ray hadn’t planned on her using her body to get said information. When he came home and caught them both, it had taken all his power not to kill them. While Ray had patience for a lot of things, infidelity wasn’t one of them. He’d only slept with her after because he’d been certain he would die the next day. When that didn’t happen, he’d quickly kicked her out, unable to so much as look at her after what she’d done. Ray had stood, impervious to her tears and excuses, while she packed, making sure every last item she owned was out of his house and that she handed back her key before she left. It had been a little over two months, and he’d thankfully not heard a peep out of her. His main takeaway? Never date a stripper.
“Look, bottom line, I’m not bringing someone in who can’t keep up. If she can’t run and gun, if she’s a talker, hell, if she can’t fucking drive , then she’s no good to me. Also, I don’t know about you, E, but the last time I watched a woman get shot up, I didn’t sleep for a week.”
“I’m tellin’ you, she can run with the baddest. She’s one of us, from the island. Saw time across the way--”
“Great, so she made it through basic. Congratulations. I’m hearing nothing good so far, E.”
“She’s the real deal, man! Check her out, see if she fits, that’s all I’m sayin’. Unless you got any other leads…”
“You know I don’t. Fuck, E. Always putting me between a rock and hard place. If this turns into another Donnie situation, I’m gonna kill you, understood? I can’t have that happen again.”
“Understood. I’ll reach out, set up the meet. I ain’t Marcus, man. I won’t do you like that.”
“That’s what Marcus said, and yet here we are.”
Valeria Flores was not having a good day. She’d missed her alarm thanks to a power outage, had smashed her shin into the coffee table as she’d gathered her things to leave for work, and ended up having to bring her Cane Corso , Axel, with her when it was clear that Brad wouldn’t be showing up to look after him as he’d promised. Brad had always been a bit of a flake, but with Axel still not used to their new home, Val didn’t want to risk leaving him alone only to come back and find her place torn to shreds, so she’d asked her boyfriend to look after him, given that he typically worked nights. Brad had promised that he’d do his best, but as she swiped her keys off the front table, she knew his best was sub par even by the loosest of standards. The only upside was that because they didn’t live together, she didn’t have to reset the alarm or make coffee, or do any of the usual things partners did out of courtesy for one another in the morning.
Though Axel was usually the world’s biggest softy, he had a bit of a destructive streak when he wasn’t completely happy with how his life was going, so Valeria had no choice but to bring him with her to the garage. Far too intelligent for his own good, the dog had put up a fight at getting into her SUV , mainly due to the fact that the only time he ever went on car rides was for vet check ups. It had made Val even later than she wanted to be, and by the time she’d jammed the keys into the ignition, she was was already hitting her upper limit on patience with the world.
The morning had been uneventful enough work-wise, with nothing but oil changes and one battery replacement for an elderly lady that had only just made it to the shop before her car died for the second time, and after breakfast and two cups of coffee, Valeria felt the morning’s ire slowly quelling. That was, until her most-hated type of customer walked into the shop. Middle-aged, dressed head to toe in Harley Davidson gear, and already wearing a scowl, the man had bullied his way into getting his car on a hoist before others who had appointments, and because he took sick pleasure in not only making wanna-be gear-heads miserable, but also in watching Val suffer a little, her boss had given her the job of trying to figure out what was wrong with the man’s 2017 Silverado.
With the peace that her quiet morning had brought quickly being replaced by a headache right behind her eyes, Valeria read the work order and did her best not to ball it up and throw it in the trash.
CUSTOMER REPORTS GRINDING NOISE COMING FROM FRONT OF VEHICLE WHENEVER BRAKING AT HIGHER SPEEDS.
It wasn’t much to go by, but it was enough of a starting point that Val knew she was gonna be popping tires off to look at the man’s brakes. If she were a betting woman, she’d put money on how the entire situation would go down, but as she lifted the truck up high enough to start working, Val took a breath, knowing there was no use in jumping to conclusions before shit hit the fan. She’d do her work, find out what was wrong, and do her best to let him down easy on what she knew would be an at least $600 job, and that was if only his pads were the only parts that needed replacing; if he needed his rotors worked on at all? He was looking at a grand, easy.
Tying her long black hair up into a messy bun, she didn’t miss Harley Douche’s gaze from the viewing window change from one of lust to shock as he realized his precious baby wasn’t going to be looked after by a man. Not for the first time, Val wished she could charge customers like him for smoke breaks caused by the stress of having to prove herself twice as hard. Anyone who worked for John’s Auto knew she pulled her weight and then some, but for a tough guy off the street, she was simply a pretty face who was ‘playing pretend with the big boys’; it aggravated her to no end.
It took her under an hour to find the issue, Val taking apart his brakes with the same practiced precision she used on her firearms at home. His pads were done, and his rotors needed to be ground down, but otherwise, the car was mechanically sound. Judging by the wear and tear, Val already knew the type of driver he was. Harley Douche rode his brakes even on straightaways; the exact type of driver that usually earned a blast of her horn and a flip of the bird as she flew past them on the PCH. She had no time for drivers like him in her personal life, but at work, she had to tiptoe around his bad driving habits and just make sure he understood what the issue was and how it could be fixed. Regardless of whether he authorized the work or not, she’d already made $170 off the man, the standard shop rate that she got to pocket so long as it was her name attached to the work order.
Taking another deep breath, she gathered up his two front pads and rotors and made her way out to the waiting room, ready for exactly how she knew the conversation was gonna go.
“Mr. Denman?” Val called out, pretending she didn’t know exactly who her customer was, a bright, forced smile crossing her face in time with his hand raise. Moving over to where he sat, she purposely kept the usual sway out of her walk, not wanting to give him any more fuel to what she already predicted would be a bonfire.
“So what’s wrong with my car, sweetheart?” He asked after she’d sat down, his eyes not-so-subtly going straight for her breasts, Val mentally kicking herself for having worn her usual tank top instead of changing into a company shirt as she tended to do when speaking with male customers; it had been too hot in the bay, and with her mind already rattled from the change in her usual morning routine, she’d completely forgotten.
“Well, I did a full check of the front, and she’s in great shape apart from the brakes. Your pads are worn down past the recommended one-eighth of an inch, so they’re going to have to be replaced or you run the risk of having no stopping power at all. Your rotors also need to be resurfaced due to the wear from the pads being low. It’s a pretty easy fix all things considered, and we should have you out of here in about two hours.” Val made sure to keep eye contact with the man as she spoke, her face set into a firm expression so that he wouldn’t even think of calling her out on making light of his situation.
Harley Douche gave her a slow undressing with his gaze, making it clear he didn’t actually give two shits about his car, but was more interested in seeing if he could get her in the back seat. It was so par for the course, that she didn’t even bother paying any mind to it, though it didn’t fail to irritate her all the more.
“And what’s all this gonna cost me, sugar?”
“Don’t call me sugar. My name’s Val. You’re looking at roughly $950 for everything, that includes the diagnostic and tax.”
“$950? You trying to rob me, sweetheart? I’m not a charity, girl, I ain’t paying for your new ass!” He crowed, Val seeing red instantly.
“You’ve got a Silverado; the brakes are big, and they’re not cheap. Now we can try and look at aftermarket parts, but sometimes they’re more expensive for domestics. You’re always welcome to take it elsewhere, but we will charge the diagnostic fee regardless, and that’s already $170. As I’m sure you know, sir, most shops will want to do their own diagnosis, regardless of what our work order says, so it’s your choice. Get charged twice for a diag, or let me fix your brakes and get you back on the road.”
Though she could see the man was still pissed about the price, Val felt her stomach turn when he smirked at her. “What if I took you out for dinner? Nice little place on the harbor? Get you out of these big boy pants, into a nice dress and some heels, give you a chance to get all dolled up. In exchange, you knock off… $200 from the bill. How’s that sound?" He offered, the man’s hand first tugging on her pants, then resting on her knee, his hand far too familiar with her body for Val’s taste. Plastering her best ‘eat shit’ grin on, she grabbed his hand and twisted, locking his wrist in a grip she’d learned years ago when she started training in Jiu Jitsu.
“Sounds like like you’re going to jail after a stint in the ICU if you touch me again, you fuck. The price is $950. $170 for the diag. Do you want your fucking brakes fixed or not?” Wincing and whimpering, the man tried desperately to pull his hand away, but the more he pulled, the deeper into the lock he found himself, Val’s smile turning genuine as she watched his pain increase.
“Fix it! Fix it and let me go, you CRAZY BITCH!” There it was, the usual moniker for any woman who dared defend herself. Crazy Bitch was a nickname Val could live with if it meant keeping creeps like him at bay.
Letting him out of the lock, Val passed over the work order, watching as he signed for the repairs to be done. “We’ve got coffee and tea just there, and there should be some fresh donuts too, if you’re so inclined.” Val’s professional voice returned as she stood, leaning down to add one last promise to her already-guaranteed threat. “One more ‘sugar,’ ‘sweetheart’, or ‘girl’ out of your mouth, and I’m dislocating your fucking knees. Understood?” The man nodded hastily, and while Val knew she would end up with a bad review, it was worth it, not only for the satisfaction of teaching him a lesson, but for the handsome payday she was about to receive.
Val moved back out to the bay, smiling in amusement at Axel, who looked ready to pounce on the next man that walked through the door. “It’s okay, boy. I’m fine,” she told him as she took a moment to pat his flanks and give his big head a scratch, Axel relaxing almost immediately. With a kiss to his nose, she stood back up and moved to the sink to splash cold water on her face and neck, the confrontation having overheated her to the point of making her sweat. It was a reaction she hated. No matter how calm and collected her mind was, her body’s fight-or-flight always took precedence and sent her sweat glands into overdrive.
Just as she stood back up to her full height of 5’6”, she heard a familiar voice call out, and in an instant, her no-good day got a little brighter.
“What’s good, Flores?” Val looked over her shoulder, her smile beaming ear to ear as she saw her long-time friend standing by the door to her bay.
“Aside from wrist-locking motherfuckers who can’t take a hint? Not much.”
“Oh, it’s like that?” Enson replied, eyebrows raised in a mix of concern and amusement.
“It’s like that. What’s up with you? Where you been? I haven’t seen in you in like a month, man!”
Hugging one of her oldest friends, she jerked her chin towards her hoist, kicking over a rolling stool so Enson could sit while she worked.
“Been busy. You know how it is. Got five mouths to feed.”
“Don’t have to tell me twice. That one’s trying to eat me out of house and home,” she smiled, pointing her ratchet at Axel, who merely groaned and huffed in response to being exposed as the bottomless food pit that he was.
“So listen, I don’t know how you’re makin’ out here, but I got a line on some work that’s more...lucrative. Plus, it uses your talents a little better.”
“I’m not stripping, Enson,” Val deadpanned, both of them knowing full well that if she ever stepped into a strip club, it was armed with ones, not a G string.
“Nah, not those talents, although I’m sure your man’s very happy to get a piece ‘a all ‘a that. No, I’m talking about the skills you earned over in the dust.”
“So we’re talking under the table? Thanks, but I’m gonna pass, bro. I’ve got a decent thing going here, and I’ve got insurance for once. Do you know how rare that is for a garage?” Val replied as she moved over to the grinder to smooth out the man’s rotors, keeping one eye on the waiting room as she did so.
“You haven’t even heard what it is yet!” Enson laughed, leaning down and opening his arms up for Axel to walk through, the dog always looking for affection from anyone Val considered a friend.
“I don’t need to, if I’m not gonna take it, E!” She mimicked before turning on the grinder and getting to work on the first rotor. Enson waited patiently for the machine to stop, and when it did, he made sure she could hear him clearly.
“It’s a six-figure payday for you. You sure you don’t wanna hear what it is?”
The payout made her pause, Val knowing full well that with that much money involved, it definitely wasn’t going to be legal, and it would probably involve Enson’s crew, none of which she’d ever met, and definitely couldn’t trust to do right by her.
Shaking her head, she felt her headache come back in full force, Val wanting the day to be over so she didn’t have to deal with Harley Douche, or another one of Enson’s schemes and could just crack a beer and work on her bike in peace. But, luck wasn’t on her side, or so it seemed, and she knew Enson well enough to know he wasn’t just going to drop it after one knee-jerk rejection. He was a Marine, after all. They never took no for an answer.
“Let’s hear it, but I’m telling you now.. I make no promises.”
"Today I didn't even have to use my A.K. I got to say it was a good day"
Val had listened to what Enson had described as an easy-in-easy-out job with incredulity. While she’d long known her friend’s main stream of income wasn’t exactly on the up and up, she hadn’t thought that it extended to strong-arm robbery of some of the major banks in the area.
“If you not comfortable with the actual hold up, you can stay in the car. Merrimen won’t love it, but that’s not yo problem to handle. Six figures, Flores. You in, or you out?”
She sat back, puffing out a breath as she fixed her gaze on Enson’s own, watching for any hint of doubt in the job, the crew, or anything related to the entire scheme. He looked calm and collected, and from how he spoke about it, Val could tell this wasn’t the first time he and his crew had pulled off a job like this.
“What happens if this shit goes sideways? Every man for himself, or are we sticking together and blowing our way out?”
“You know damn well we ain’t leavin’ nobody behind. We didn’t do that in the Sandbox, we sure as shit ain’t doin’ it here. And we keep our mouths shut. That’s Ray’s biggest thing. We had a fuckin’ rat in the same position you takin’ over, so don’t be surprised when Ray doesn’t exactly trust yo ass right away.”
“IF I take it over, E. I’m sure this isn’t something I’m gonna just walk into. What’s the layout? I go, prove I can drive, and then get left in the dark until it’s time to roll?”
“Listen, if you prove yoself--which I know you will--then you in all the way. His trust will come eventually.”
Val took a long swig from her beer before lighting a cigarette, leaning back in her seat, her eyes narrowed at Enson.
“If this goes sideways, I’m gonna choke you out, we clear? You know I can do it too.”
“I know. It ain’t gon’ go sideways. Our last job would’ve been our biggest payday yet, if it weren’t for that fuckin’ snitch takin’ off with all the green.”
“Y’all got double-crossed.”
“Yeah, and if we ever find the motherfucker, he gon’ get what’s comin’ to him.” There was no mistaking the rage in Enson’s voice, and Val knew from experience with his tone that they’d lost someone on the job, though how close the man was to the crew remained to be seen.
“So when do I do my test drive for Ray?” The words immediately put a smile on Enson’s face and Val’s eyes narrowed in distrust.
“Tomorrow. We havin’ a family get together. The whole crew’ll be there. Come correct, come strapped, and whatever you do, don’t drive the tank. Ride the bike. Bring the sexy a lil’ bit.”
“Fuck you, E. I’m not auditioning for your lingerie football league. I’m bringing the tank. If Ray’s as big and bad as you make him out to be, he’ll have his own whip he wants me in, so it shouldn’t matter what I roll in. Also, my sexy shouldn’t fucking matter, how many times I gotta tell you?”
Enson merely laughed, hands up in a playful show of resignation. “You bring the sexy no matter what you do, so just come correct.”
“You’re such a tool,” Val chuckled, pushing over the pizza box, Enson’s bribe only half-eaten. “C’mon, I’m not putting away a whole pie by myself.”
“The fuck you ain’t! I bought that shit f’you, girl! I got dinner waitin’ at home anyway. You know how Charlene be. If I don’t show up with an appetite, she thinks I be out stuffing my face with In-N-Out.”
“Please. Where in all that muscle would those burgers go?” Val smirked, grabbing one last slice for herself before closing the box, intent on keeping the rest for leftovers if Enson wasn’t going to partake.
Val switched off the truck and looked warily at Enson’s crib. Even with her windows rolled up, she could hear the sounds of 90’s hip hop emanating from the backyard. As she stepped out, the music was amplified by people talking and laughing, and Enson’s giant barbeque sizzling away. Taking a look at herself in the reflection of her truck’s black paint job, Val tucked her hair behind her ear and took a deep breath, willing the nerves to go away.
She felt like she was back on Parris Island, waiting for the moment when the first of many drill sergeants would berate her into following orders. She had no idea what sort of rank Ray held, or if he’d even been honorably discharged, but with Enson’s military record clean as a whistle, she could only hope for the best. Her own records weren’t exactly spotless, but when it came time to leave, she’d received her honorable discharge, Val forever grateful to her C.O. for putting in one last good word for her.
Shaking it off, she tugged at her t-shirt, hoping she’d made the right choice in clothing this time around. She could still feel her skin crawl when she thought about what happened at the garage the day before and how, if it weren’t for her training, the man would’ve probably taken even more liberties with her. Wearing black jeans ripped at the knees, a black t-shirt that she tucked in only at the front, and her usual riding boots, her outfit was cool and casual, albeit a little dark for how neon and poppy southern California tended to be. She didn't’ care though; 99% of what she owned was black. For practical purposes, it made hiding stains from motor oil and the like a breeze, but to Val, it was aesthetically pleasing as well. The color complimented her skin tone and made her look taller and slimmer than she already was. It also tended to be a good warning signal to any guys thinking of trying their luck. Overall, it created the image she wanted to portray and allowed her to move through life with a bit more ease than some of her more feminine counterparts.
Val had always believed in the power of good alcohol, and in the case of her fellow Marines, she knew beer or whiskey was the way to go. Since it was a daytime, family-esque activity, Val had opted on a case of beer large enough that most of the guys in attendance would get an extra can on top of what she knew Enson was already providing. Pitching the case up onto her shoulder, she locked the car with her free hand and quickly crossed the street, bypassing the front door in favor of Enson’s back gate, which he always left open when hosting barbeques. Charlene was the first face she saw before she even rounded the corner and though the other woman was happy to see her, she was also slightly confused.
“Val… First time you show up for a family barbeque and you choose the one time Enson’s boys are here?”
“I know, ‘Lene, I know. What would my mother think.”
“So you’re the one Enson was talking to Ray about. Giiirl…”
“I know. But it’s a payday I can’t turn down. I got loans to pay off from when mama was sick. I can’t afford to turn it down,” she whispered to Enson’s wife, knowing full well that she was one of the few females the knew anything about what her husband and his friends did for a living. Val ventured that it was literally just the two of them, in fact. While money was the obvious draw, she knew Charlene wouldn’t understand the other, far more intangible reason why joining Enson’s crew sounded like a good idea; no civilian could.
“As long as you know what you’re in for…” Charlene murmured, cutting into Val’s thoughts as she looked around the corner discreetly, both of them out of sight of anyone else at the party, both keeping their voices down just in case. Thought trustworthy enough to be privy to the information, neither of them wanted to look like gossips, or worse, like they were plotting something, so with the quick exchange, Charlene went around the corner first, Val waiting a few beats before following suit.
“THERE SHE IS!!” Enson called out with a big smile, the rest of the party turning to look, most of the guys cheering when they saw the beer as Val had expected. Smiling as she shook her head, she made her way to the cooler to drop the beers into ice, feeling more than a few pairs of eyes on her as she carefully maneuvered the case down off her shoulder and onto the ground, the movements easy and controlled. She might have bought the biggest case on purpose to display her strength, but the boys at the barbeque definitely didn’t need to know that.
Once the beers were on ice, Val gave Enson a hug, using the proximity to her advantage. “He here?” She asked in a whisper, her eyes scanning the crowd behind her Oakleys, trying to figure out who was top dog, since it had been clear during their conversation that Enson wasn’t leading his crew.
“Yeah, he here. Wanna beer, or just wanna get it over with?”
“I operate better sober, you know that.” Val replied, one eyebrow raising over the frames of her sunglasses, Enson chuckling his agreement before draping an arm across her shoulders and leading her over to one of the tables under the cover of the overhang.
Before Enson could even get her close, Val sensed a change in the air around the man who sat eating a steak at the middle table. It was the same change she was familiar with in the mountains of Afghanistan. A sudden quiet, a slowing of time that preceded a firefight. Her body tensed almost imperceptibly, Val ready for a fight even though logically she knew there shouldn’t be one. Once Enson brought them to a stop, the man--whose eyes she couldn’t see behind his sunglasses--looked up, expression unreadable.
“Valeria Flores. Five years with the 4th. Four tours in the Sandbox. Honorable Discharge by a hair . Six speeding tickets in nearly as many months once you were back in the world. Currently working at John’s, and probably leaving the gun at home so you don’t ‘accidentally’ shoot a customer who gets a little handsy. That about cover it?” His voice was an unsettling mix of patient and cold, knowledgeable and untrusting. Whatever his rank, he was a C.O. through and through.
His placid expression and strong eye contact did nothing to put Val at ease, and even as she sat and pushed her sunglasses up to the crown of her head, she never once took her eyes off the man in front of her, afraid that, like a tiger, the minute she did so, he would attack. It was a feeling she wasn’t sure would ever go away, but Val figured if Enson could live with it, then so could she. In what might have been considered a power move, Val unholstered her Kimber and set it on the table, following it up with her Ka-Bar, still in its sheath, making sure that those around them heard the clanking of the weapons onto the glass. She wanted witnesses if shit went south, wanted more than Enson on her side if Ray ended up doing something stupid as was sometimes the case with C.O.’s that got power hungry.
“You forgot the one I got last week for drifting around the bend at Hawthorne, but it probably hasn’t gone through the system yet.” Val replied with a smirk that was less confidence and more oneupmanship, not at all put off by the fact that he’d run background on her; she expected nothing less from a MARSOC operator, and was actually surprised he hadn’t listed off her last four addresses and her mother’s maiden name in his feeble attempt to intimidate her.
What she wasn’t expecting was for Ray to lean in while pushing his own Oakley’s up, looking almost angry that she was sitting across from him. “You ever killed anyone, Flores? ‘Cause I couldn’t find a count on your record, and all these guys you see around you? They’ve taken life. Whether in or out of a uniform. So when the time comes and you actually need to pull the trigger, are you at peace with the consequences?”
Mirroring his movements, Val made sure her gaze was locked on his, her face just as placid as his had been at the start of their meeting. “My kills came during an ambush. No one was counting, but I see the faces of every single man and woman I shot, believe me. I’ve taken life. If the need comes to pull the trigger again, I won’t hesitate, because like you said, I leave one of my guns at home to keep from shooting cocky-ass motherfuckers in the face at work.”
Val finally leaned back, looking over to Enson with a look that made it very clear how pissed she was at getting questioned on her military career. It was one thing to run background, but an entirely different matter to question her abilities. She had half a mind to ask Enson to get her a beer, but knew that with Ray’s hawkish gaze not missing a moment, both she and Enson would be under scrutiny, her for drinking while on the job so to speak, and Enson for being her bitch even though it couldn’t be further from the truth.
Rubbing a hand over his buzz cut, Ray gave her a moment to cool off, knowing he’d hit a nerve. It was a risky move and while it had paid off, he’d crossed a line most Marine’s would’ve choked him for. Two things one never questioned with a Marine, no matter how low their rank, was their moral compass and their ability to perform. He’d just done the latter without batting an eye and Ray knew it could have backfired with far more dire consequences, especially considering that Val’s sidearm was within reach.
“Besides the money, why are you doing this? You have a job--a good one, from what Enson tells me. Why give it up for something like this?”
Val understood the question on a deeper level, as it was one she’d asked herself more than once since Enson had first come to her with the job. In fact, she’d spent half the night tossing and turning over what to say if and when Ray spit out those very words. The truth hurt, but she knew that lying to herself wasn’t an option; neither was lying to Ray.
“In all honesty? Doing oil changes all day makes me fucking suicidal, and if one more motherfucker tries to cop a feel, I’m gonna make the six o’clock news. I...I miss it. That’s the truth. I miss it all, but I can’t go back, just like y’all can’t. This is the closest I’ll get before I’m too old to pick up a gun again.”
The table was silent, all of them looking at her as though she’d just uttered a classified secret. All except for Ray, whose lips were slightly turned up in the corners. It was a look she knew well, but rarely saw nowadays; respect. He leaned back and she let out a silent breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. It had been the answer he’d been looking for, and she knew that pending the testing Ray was sure to put her through, that she had the job in the bag. With any luck, she’d become as indispensable as Enson and this particular job would be the first of many with the crew, so she could kiss the garage and the hundreds of Harley-wearing cocksuckers goodbye once and for all. Unlike her time overseas, this time, she would actually get to fully utilize her skills, and not carry a gun ‘just in case’. She’d be useful, an equal member of a team. She owed Enson big time.
“Have you gotten a plate yet? Bosco, get her a plate and a beer.” Ray said without ever cutting off his eye contact, his smile growing a little easier as he went back to his own food. The difference in the air she’d felt when first approaching dissipated a little as she watched the man to Ray’s right jump up and make quick work of filling a plate with steak, potato salad and all the other components of Enson’s infamous barbeque parties. Ray was an animal, but as Val watched him eat, she felt the sneaking suspicion that he was her type of animal, the kind that was cut from the same cloth. The kind that didn’t fuck around with meaningless bullshit. The kind that let his actions do the talking.
“Thanks,” she murmured to Bosco as he set down her plate and a cold beer, Val digging in, making sure the crew understood that she wasn’t the type to shy away from anything, including eating at a table filled with strangers. It might have been silly to an outsider, but chow hall rules never changed, and if she tried to creep off and eat in the corner by herself, she’d give the whole crew unnecessary ammo to use against her should shit go bad. If she wanted in, she had to be all in, and that included breaking bread with the men she’d be spending every waking hour in the foreseeable future.
“Tomorrow, 9 am. Meet me back here. You talk a big talk, Flores, but I gotta see you walk the walk.”
“Understood.” Val nodded, knowing Ray wasn’t just going to let her in. Like she’d predicted, there would be testing involved, but for Val, the hard part was over. She’d come correct, sold herself and her skills well enough to get in the door, and now she just had to show Ray her brand of fun.
“Now, eat up. Enjoy Enson’s finest barbeque, and tomorrow, we’ll find out if all his yapping lives up to the hype.”
Simultaneously, the table erupted in a laugh, and for the first time in a long time, Val felt like she was back on base, with the men she’d called family for so long. It felt like home.
For those unfamiliar with some of the military terms in this chapter:
Sandbox - What most soldiers call Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait.
C.O. - Commanding Officer.
Back in the World - Back stateside after a deployment.
Parris Island - One of the many bases where Marines go through basic training. Until recently, Parris Island was the only base that trained female Marines.
"Tomorrow ain’t promised, we living for right now."
It had rained overnight, and while most people were taking to the streets of King Harbor with more caution than usual, Val was using the wet roads as a way to test her truck and make sure it was still in good working order. Weaving in and out of traffic, she reminded herself to keep a safe speed, if only so that she didn’t end up with another ticket, or spill the two cups of coffee she’d bought on the way to Enson’s. Drinking hers as she drove, she wondered what type of test Ray would be putting her through behind the wheel, and whether he’d make her use her truck (which would make sense, considering the amount of people she had to drive away from the scene), or if he’d put her in his own set of wheels. Either way was fine, so long as he gave her time to adjust his car to her liking, something she’d do in any new car, regardless of who she was driving it for and how similar in size to her they were.
Reaching Enson’s house, she parked smoothly next to the sidewalk, Val’s eyebrows going up when she saw what was parked in her friend’s driveway. She knew Enson wasn’t a car guy; he preferred weights to pedals, and couldn’t tell the difference between an Impala and a Charger even if it was pointed out to him. No, whoever owned this vehicle knew what he was doing, and if she were to put money on anyone, she’d have bet on it being Ray’s.
“Speak of the devil…” She murmured to herself as she saw Ray step out of the front door, Enson looking out behind him with an impish smile on his face. The two were clearly up to no good and Val only hoped that her ‘test’ didn’t involve Ray endlessly questioning her about stories she’d told to Enson in confidence.
Val stepped out and grabbed the coffees after hooking her keys to her belt loop, her head cocking to one side as she watched Enson fold over in laughter.
“Awww--y’all match! How c-cute!” Enson choked out, slapping his knee as he let his weight fall back against the front wall of the house, obviously finding the fact that both her and Ray were wearing similar outfits hilarious, given the circumstance. Indeed, she and Ray had both donned plaid tops, and dark bottoms, though her top was a hoodie where his was a button down, and her pants were dark gray jeans where his were navy-colored Dickies. But with both of them wearing Converse and both having similar skin and hair color, she could see the joke.
“Enson, shut the fuck up.”Her and Ray called out at the same time, the coincidence earning a shriek from Enson even as he went back inside, clearly having had his laugh for the day.
“Morning. Hold these for a sec,” she greeted Ray flatly, all but pushing the coffees into his hands as she unzipped her hoodie, revealing a black tank top underneath. Tying it around her waist, she took back her coffee, leaving his cup with him.
“Mine?” Ray asked, looking mildly impressed that she’s thought to bring him some. “Yours. I asked Enson for your doctoring. I should’ve just guessed, given all you MARSOC boys drink the same thing,” she smirked, tapping the B on the side of his cup that she’d purposely drawn in marker to differentiate his from hers. It wasn’t that they took their coffee differently, but rather the fact that she was wearing mint lip balm that made the separation necessary. The last thing Val wanted was him spitting out his coffee because it tasted different than what he was used to.
“What about you? What’s in yours, Flores?” Ray asked with an arching of his brow, that same almost-smile curling the very corner of his lips as he took a sip, nodding his acceptance of how his Bulletproof coffee tasted.
“I take it the same way, but I didn’t want to give you cooties,” she joked, Val’s heart soaring when she earned an actual laugh from Ray.
Turning her attention to the car they stood in front of, she bent down to look in the window, cupping her hand around her eyes but not touching the glass, in case Ray turned out to be one of those anal-retentive assholes that didn’t like fingerprints on his glass.
“She’s beautiful. How long have you had her?” Val asked as she started walking around the car, taking in the finer details.
“Ten years. Bought her for a steal and been working on her ever since.”
“But you didn’t keep her insides stock. I would’ve taken you for a purest, Ray. Mind popping the hood?”
“Hold this,” Ray replied with something of a satisfied smirk as he breezed past her to disengage the hood latch. Smiling to herself, Val held his coffee and waited until he was back at her side to make him hold both. If it was becoming a little tongue-in-cheek game, neither would ever admit to it, but for Enson, who watched silently from the second floor window, he could only hope that their back and forth meant good things for the team in the future. If Val screwed them like Donnie did, Enson knew he’d be forced to kill one of his best friends, and he didn’t even want to think of that happening.
“Can’t be a purist when you wanna ride in an oven in the summer. I tried to keep her looking as stock as possible, but comfortable enough to do the PCH from start to finish if I wanted to.”
“That’s fair,” Val agreed, not having missed the fact that he’d installed cup holders, putting a major hole in her anal-retentive theory. “‘67 Camaro. 350 V8, dual exhaust...you put an R4 in it? Raaay…”
“I know, I know. I got sick of Enson stalling it when he got behind the wheel,” Ray chuckled, shaking his head and looking up at the exact window Enson was standing at, the other man quickly retreating before his laugh gave away the real reason why the Camaro was automatic.
“One of us has to teach that motherfucker how to drive stick.”
“Please, have you ever tried to teach him anything? It’s impossible,” Ray smiled, glad their mutual friend had provided a convincing excuse, at least for the time being.
“True. I made the mistake of trying to teach him how to change his oil once. Never again.” Val replied, shaking her head at the memory of her friend pouring fresh oil into the pan, only to have it all come out the bottom as he’d forgotten to put the drain plug back in place.
“She looks good though, all things considered, though I’ve gotta get you better rims. Those things look like fidget spinners, man.” Val gave her final verdict, carefully releasing the hood, letting it slam only in the last few inches to make sure the latch took.
Turning to Ray, she tried to keep the excitement out of her features as she held up one hand. “Can I start ‘er? Wanna see how loud this lady moans,” she teased, wiggling her eyebrows, Val’s bottom lip caught between her teeth. Nearly bouncing as she watched Ray fish around his pocket for the keys, Val had to keep from skipping to the driver’s seat after he chucked the keys into her waiting hand.
“No peacocking until the coffees are empty, and I like my rims, thank you very much,” Ray replied as he moved around to the passenger side, looking only slightly offended at her review of his rims. Val waited until he was seated to put the key into the ignition, her excitement palpable as she turned it over.
The Camaro growled to life, causing a rather undignified squeal to escape Val, her smile ear-to-ear as she caringly pressed the accelerator. Her eyes closed in absolute pleasure as the growl turned to a rumble, then a roar, her seat vibrating with the strength of the engine.
“I take back anything bad I may have said about what you put under her skirt, Ray. I take it alll back,” she said, Val’s voice soft and dreamy as she gave herself a moment to just enjoy the sounds.
“Here,” Ray tried to hold back his smile as he handed her a roll of paper towels he kept tucked in the passenger side door. It took Val a moment to realize what he was doing, but as she took the roll, it suddenly dawned on her.
“Asshole!” She laughed, Val not even thinking as she smacked him with the roll. “What? I don’t want a flood in here!” Ray shot back, laughing just as hard, his hazel eyes gleaming with mischief. “Just be glad the coffees were in the oh-so-stock cupholders, you dick,” Val grinned as she adjusted her mirrors and her seat.
With one final check of everything, Val shifted the car into reverse, quickly checking the angle of Enson’s driveway before slowly backing out enough to get a clear view of the road. Ray’s laughs quieted as he put his sunglasses on, reaching out wordlessly to push Val’s down over her eyes, Ray not missing the fact that they both wore Oakley’s. It was one of the many habits Marines found hard to break, even after they’d discharged, and it--like her choice in weapons--cemented her commitment to her previous employment in his mind, and made it clear that once she committed to this new job, he wouldn’t have to necessarily worry that she’d get cold feet at the last second.
“Anywhere specific you wanted me to go?” Val asked after pulling out and beginning a slow amble down the road, waiting for instruction.
“The business park four blocks south of here,” Ray replied with the same detachment he’d used the day before. Far from being put off by it, Val just understood that it was time to work, and that, at least for now, fun time was over.
Hitting the accelerator, she brought the car to speed, and easily took the direction needed, knowing exactly where he was talking about, as she drove past it everyday to go to work. Val relaxed into the bucket seat as they moved, finding her rhythm with the car easily enough as she cornered and stopped it smoothly. The fact that it was automatic didn’t hurt, but she would’ve been able to show off more were it a manual transmission.
“So now that we’re away from Enson’s ear shot, be honest. Why did you actually make it auto?” Val asked as she gazed at Ray out of the corner of her eye.
“I was young, dumb, and...had the hots for a girl who had the hots for the car, but no clue how to actually drive it.” Ray’s confession made Val smile, if only for the fact that she too had once kitted out a car to impress someone.
“Next time, teach her to drive properly, Ray. It’s easier ,” Val said in a conspiratorial whisper, her smile still bright as she reached out and gave him a consolation pat to the chest. If Val found herself rubbing at the spot she’d smacked, it was only because she truly felt sorry for Ray’s forced choice in transmissions, not because she enjoyed the feel of muscles under his shirt; at least that’s what she told herself once she’d finally dropped her hand back to the steering wheel.
“Focus on the road, Clutch,” Ray replied, grinning as he tested out a potential call sign on her, seeing if it fit, and what her reaction to it would be. Tipping her chin up in approval, Val silently approved of the moniker, her lower lip going back between her teeth.
“Yes, sir,” she grinned, absolutely pleased with how things were going now that they’d gotten the intimidation act out of the way.
They reached the empty business park quickly enough, Val putting the Camaro in park as she took in the lay of the land. Though it was Saturday, she knew there was still the chance that some Silicone Valley-wannabe would be around, and though she knew the capabilities of the Camaro, it didn’t mean that this particular Camaro was equally capable. Still, her check under the hood hadn’t sent up any red flags, and Val knew Ray would tell her to stop if he wasn’t comfortable with something she was doing. Straightening her spine, she looked over at Ray, trying to get a read on him.
“Seatbelt or I’m not fucking moving another inch, Ray.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he nodded, having long learned his lesson when Donnie told him the same thing, albeit in far more delicate terms. If he were honest with himself, he preferred Val’s more straightforward approach; it made her more trustworthy.
With a deep breath, she put the car in drive and gunned it, the pedal hitting the floorboard as she peeled off, sending them both into the seat backs as the car responded beautifully. Finding her zone, Val couldn’t help the smile on her face as she showed off her skills, maneuvering with precision through the winding parking lot, especially as she drifted around a corner and headed straight for a group of trailers parked at the end of the lot. Making her speed as high as possible, Val trusted what she’d seen of the brakes, waiting until the last possible second--and until Ray was clutching the Holy Shit bar with all his might--to stop the car, leaving less than inch between the front end of the car and the corner of one of the trailers.
“Val…” Ray said in warning, his voice making it clear she’d given him a scare.
“Yes?” She answered in a syrupy, purposely-sweet tone. “Don’t worry, there won’t be paint missing, and the headlight’ll be fine too. Go and check for yourself.”
Fixing her with a glare the likes of which she hadn’t seen in nearing on 24 hours, Ray unbuckled and shot out of the car, immediately looking at the front end on both sides before reaching down past where Val could see.
For a moment, fear gripped her, Val wondering if she hadn’t accidentally done something horrifying to the front of Ray’s car. In the worst case scenario, she pictured him pulling out a mangled animal that had had the misfortune of getting caught between the two pieces of steel, but when he stood back to his full 6’5”, Ray had a smile on his face. Holding up his index finger, he indicated the first knuckle, shaking his head in amazement. Val knew instantly that the very tip of his finger was exactly how much room she’d left between his car and the trailer and she had to try hard to keep the smile off her face.
“You’re somethin’ else, Flores. You are somethin’ else.” Ray said as got back in, Val watching him put his seatbelt back on before she purposely reversed hard, swinging the car around until she could drive back in the direction they came, the smirk never once leaving her face.
"Got to be a joker, he just do what he please"
“So you’re working with Enson, this other guy, and who else?” Brad asked as he poured milk into his cereal. With his blond hair sticking up at all angles and his blue eyes bleary from too much weed the night before, he wasn’t doing himself any favors by taking a tone with Val first thing in the morning.
“Bosco. He runs the tech side. It’s all compartmentalized, like it was back in the Sandbox. It’s hard to explain.”
“I don’t like it,” Brad said, shaking his head after swallowing a slurping bite, the noise inching Val closer and closer to being fully annoyed with her boyfriend.
“What’s not to like? They’re all former MARSOC, they know what they’re doing. It’s private contractor stuff, nothing too serious.”
“Are you going to need your passport for this shit? Like, are you going overseas?”
“No, it’s all domestic. Closest I’ll get is the border,” she lied, knowing full well she wasn’t even going to leave the state of California with the crew. The plan was to take locally, but not so locally that it would come back to them.
“I still don’t understand why you have to do this. You were getting on fine at the shop, all the guys there loved you, you were making good money--”
“I’m barely making a dent into my school loans, Brad. This pays way better and if I do this first job well, they’ll keep me on for the next jobs and those will pay even more,” Val said on a sigh, tired of the million questions Brad always asked whenever something was out of the ordinary in his very humdrum life.
“There’s other ways. I mean, look at Denise. She’s rolling in it and doing just fine without having to wear a vest.” Val fixed Brad with a questioning glare, head leaned forward as though she hadn’t heard him right.
“Denise is a fucking stripper, Brad. You want me to grind up on some old, sweaty dudes for money, is that it? Want me to come home and let you count all the ones?”
“I’m just saying it’s safer .”
“Go back to bed, Brad. Jesus, fuck,” Val snapped, grabbing her gun bag, her keys, and heading for the door, knowing that if she stayed any longer, she was going to unleash on him and that with his brain’s currently fuzzy state, he’d understand none of it and get mad at her for getting mad at him.
Sliding on her shades, she got behind the wheel, gunned it, and headed in the direction of Enson’s house, stopping only for gas and breakfast along the way. Driving above the speed limit, she clocked in four minutes faster than she normally would, even with the stop. While the speed was exhilarating, it did nothing to calm her mood.
Scowl still firmly in place, she left her gun bag in the car and trudged up the driveway where Enson was helping Ray with the Camaro. Not saying a word, she moved past them and beelined the MMA gloves she always kept at Enson’s. As her place had no room for a punching bag, she always used his, and today was only different because she was wearing street clothes and not her usual workout gear.
“Uh oh,” Enson murmured as soon as he caught a blur of black blaze past him and heard the jingle of the heavy bag chains as Val began to hit it.
Doing an old combination she’d learned years earlier that always did well to work out the anger she felt coursing through her, Val pointedly ignored both Enson and Ray’s stares as she teed off on the bag, not for the first time pretending that it was Brad’s face she was rearranging instead of the leather cylinder. For the first time in a long time, no matter how hard she punched, no matter how many elbows she threw, Val didn’t feel the anger draining but instead, as she thought back on her two-year relationship with Brad, felt it getting stronger. Every time she had something good going, he had to rain on her parade, either by doing what he’d done with all the questions, or by flat out telling her it would never work. He’d never been able to just be happy for her, and the more she thought about it, the more it made her furious. It wasn’t until her Oakley’s slipped off her face and flew towards Enson (who thankfully caught them), that Ray stepped up, slowly wedging himself between Val and the bag.
“This isn’t gonna work today. You’re gonna end up hurting yourself. Let’s go.” His words, spoken calmly but firmly, made her stop trying to punch around him and actually stand back, looking up at the man whom she knew she’d soon be trusting her life with.
“Enson, do me a favor, hit up Bosco and go run a scrimmage with him. I want to make sure everything’s tight for next week.” Ray said to Enson, who merely nodded, trusting him to calm Val down when it was clear the usual treatment wasn’t doing the trick.
With a hand kneading the back of Val’s neck, Ray took her glasses from Enson and led her back out to her car, grabbing his own gun bag as he went.
“Show me your hands,” he said with the same even tone she’d heard consistently after their first meeting. Begrudgingly, Val held her hands out flat, still in her gloves. Her eyes closed in even more anger as she realized she was shaking.
“Keys,” Ray said without blinking, holding out his free hand until he felt the metal clink into them. Val knew that driving angry wasn’t safe, but it was the first time she’d ever been prevented from doing it. It spoke volumes about the kind of man Ray was, especially when she compared him to Brad, who’d more than once let her peel off in a huff without ever trying to get her to relax first.
In a move that surprised her, Ray opened the passenger side of her truck first, seeing her in before throwing the rest of the gear in the trunk and jogging around to the driver’s seat. No man had ever so much as thought to do that for her, and while she’d never expected it, it was a nice gesture nonetheless.
“Have you eaten?” he asked after getting in and starting the car, Ray buckling up as he pulled away from the curb, his eyes darting to her as he came to a stop at the end of the street. “Yeah, I had breakfast on the way over here,” Val replied, her teeth still clenched despite all her attempts to relax her muscles.
“Well, it’s a start. When’s the last time you went to the range?”
“A week ago. I try and make it out every week.”
“Good, so you’re not rusty at least. Wasn’t planning on teaching a refresher course today,” Ray tried to joke, though he knew from the silence he received in reply, that she wasn’t there yet.
The rest of the ride was silent aside from the radio, Ray purposely setting it to a classic rock station to keep things from either going into a depressing spiral or from making her even angrier. He knew she’d eventually spill on what had caused the early-morning rage, but until she was ready to do so, Ray wasn’t going to press.
When the arrived, Val didn’t wait for Ray to so much as finish parking the car before she was grabbing her bag out of the back and heading in to sign in. She was grateful he’d taken her to the same range her and Enson frequented, because filling out a guest form wasn’t something she had the patience for, especially in her current mood. Signing her name, she headed to the lockers, hearing Ray’s footsteps running behind her. He’d managed to keep up even though his things were in the trunk, and as she opened her locker, he came to a skidding halt next to her. Setting his things down, Ray took her by the shoulders and forced her to look him in the eye.
“Whatever happened this morning, I need you to take a breath. This bull-in-a-china-shop thing you’ve got going isn’t good for anyone, least of all you. Deep breath in, deep breath out. I don’t want you touching a weapon until you’re a little more even, understood? Val?”
Val opened her mouth to give a biting reply, but thought better of it. She needed to shoot, needed to get her anger out; most of all, she still felt she needed to prove to Ray that she wasn’t in it just to be the driver, and that she could actually add value to the team. Closing her eyes, she did as asked, taking several deep breaths and letting them out just a slow before pulling away from his grip, feeling only slightly better, but calm enough to shoot.
Following Ray out to the regular range, Val set up in one booth, waiting only as long as it took him to walk behind her to start setting up her Kimber. Peeking around to make sure he was wearing his ear protection, she slammed the target to the back of the range and the moment it was clear, began to let off a mag, letting the recoil force her muscles to loosen. By the fifth shot, she was already feeling worlds better, and as she speed-reloaded, Val already felt more like herself than she had all morning.
So focused was she on hitting her target, that she didn’t notice Ray take two steps back and two to the right, standing slightly behind her to watch her fire the second round of bullets into the paper. It was only when she’d put her gun down and went to hit the button to bring her target back, did she catch the shadow, and turning, startle a little at Ray being so close.
“Jesus, man. Personal bubble.” She muttered half-heartedly, her eyes moving back to her target as she realized that he was focused on her grouping. Ray’s brows went up as the target stopped in front of them, his shooting glasses following suit as he took in her shot group.
“Nice and tight. On target. Where’d you learn to shoot like that? Don’t tell me the Island.” Ray asked, slipping his headphones off to actually hear her.
“Enson gave me some pointers, but other than that? Just practice and refinement,” Val replied honestly, though her smile made it clear how pleased she was, especially considering her earlier mood.
“Put in another mag, I wanna try something,” Ray jerked his chin in the direction of her gun as he reached over her to set a timer for 30 seconds.
“Give it all you got. I wanna see tight, clean shot groups,” he explained, putting his gear back on before taking a step back.
Val knew he was asking for speed and accuracy, and as the timer beeped and she took aim, she put every ounce of her power into her shot, picturing Brad’s head as the target. The mag was gone before the time was up, but Val didn’t stop. Instead, she reloaded and kept going, managing to get another half a mag out before the timer stopped her. Her smile went ear to ear as she heard Ray’s low whistle, his face one of approval and admiration as he stepped in again.
“I have a feeling the target’s either family or your boyfriend, and if it’s the latter? I hope for his sake he’s not home when you get back,” Ray chuckled, slamming the button to bring the target back, his head shaking in disbelief as he saw exactly what he’d asked for even before the target came to a stop.
“Lucky for him, he works nights,” Val replied, her nose scrunching up in delight when Ray jostled her by the shoulders, clearly excited about her skills. “Gotta say though….Still feeling pretty shitty. Think I need something a little...bigger,” she added, cocking up one eyebrow before packing away her Kimber, and heading for the door, once again leaving Ray to keep up.
“Bob, is the dirt free?” She called out to the range owner, who merely nodded his head, already having an idea of what her follow-up question would be. “Can I get the Barrett and a mag, please?” She asked, her voice taking on the same sweetness it always did when she wanted something she knew she might get push back on. With a shake of his head, Bob went into the back and came out again holding the sniper rifle and the requested magazine, Val taking them with utter glee. Hefting the rifle onto her shoulder, she turned just in time to see Ray’s eyes go wide.
“Bob, you out of your mind? You want her to blow her shoulder out?” Ray called even as he followed behind Val, not only confused, but slightly concerned. Watching her set up, Ray couldn’t help but notice her precision and familiarity with the weapon. Given what she’d done during her time in the service, Ray knew that this particular skill, like her efficiency with the pistol, wasn’t the product of Marine training, but instead of her own desire to learn, something that put her miles away from any woman he’d ever worked with or even taken an interest in. Taking a seat behind her on the floor of the dirt range, Ray kept quiet, knowing she needed this type of release more than she needed to hear him offer tips on how to shoot.
Ray stayed silent as he watched her get into position on her stomach, calibrate the sights one final time, and steady herself to shoot. His breathing synced with hers unconsciously, and when she let out half an exhale, his own body tensed in preparation. As predicted, she squeezed the trigger and the familiar crack resounded through the whole room, Ray hearing the echo of the shot hitting its mark, followed by the familiar ping of the casing, the familiar sounds making him smile. Much as he hated to admit it, there was a rush when firing the bigger calibers and from the matching look that graced Val’s face, he knew she felt the same.
“Nice shot!” He called out, raising his voice so she could hear him over the deafening echo that still shot around the room. “Nice ass too,” he murmured to himself, finding Val unbelievably sexy from day one, but even more so now that all of Enson’s talk had proved valid.
“I heard that…” Val shouted, looking over her shoulder at him with a smirk, making it clear she wasn’t offended in the slightest. Ray looked down at his gun bag, a boyish, almost goofy grin crossing his face, and if he blushed, neither he nor Val ever told a soul.
The Barrett M82 is the 'Barrett' in question during this chapter. It's big, loud, and fires bullets the size of my palm.
"You better fight 'cause there's nowhere to hide. No escape and nowhere to run."
The rest of the week went by with more and more crew meetings as they planned the hold up of Cathay Bank. The plan was simple enough; Go in ambush-style, shoot out the cameras, zip tie patrons and employees alike, bust the vault, and make a clean getaway with Val behind the wheel. The Thursday before the heist, Ray had Val fitted for new Kevlar, her old vest long-expired and ill-fitting considering she was no longer wearing a uniform underneath, but rather a skin-tight Underarmour shirt. Ray was as thorough as he was with anything else in life, making sure every corner fit properly, and running the vest through a series of tests with Val wearing it. Short of testing it against actual ammo, both Ray and Val ended the day satisfied that unless she was shot in her extremities or in the head, she was more than reasonably safe with her new Kevlar.
Coming home late from the fitting, Val expected to find Brad asleep on the couch with Axel, as he’d actually shown up to take care of the dog like he’d promised. Instead, the moment she’d closed the door, Val felt herself pinned against it. Brad reeked of booze, and immediately she knew how he’d spent the night; drinking and pacing. It was the same way he got whenever his mother tried to butt into his life, only this time, Val was the target of his rage, not her.
“Where the fuck have you been, and don’t say a ‘meeting’. I can smell the booze on you.”
“Yeah. One beer. How many fucking bottles of vodka have you gone through already, Brad? Four, five? You smell like a liquor store. Get the fuck off me.” Val shot back, not at all intimidated by him pressing her against the door. They’d had many a fight that got a little physical, but neither had ever hit the other. The slam of her head against the metal changed their ‘normal’ once and for all. Her vision blurred for a moment before Brad came back into focus, Val’s scowl making it clear he’d crossed a line.
“Don’t fucking talk to me about drinking, stupid bitch. I know damn well all these fucking meetings aren’t just work. Not when you’re coming home this late.”
“What do you wanna hear, Brad? That I’m fucking all these dudes? Letting them run a train on me? Just gargling the dicks? Huh? That what you want? Be honest. You’re pissed because you’re not getting the attention you want. You feel inferior ‘cause you can’t do what I do, and never will.”
Of all the responses she was expecting, the sucker punch to her orbital was last on the list. Growling, she waited for the split second when Brad cocked back for another hit and immediately swept his legs out from under him, his body crashing to the ground. Not giving him a second to even think, she got on top of him, closing the distance as quick as she could and putting him in her guard. She’d started practicing Jiu Jitsu shortly after basic, and while she didn’t roll as often as she wanted to anymore, Val still knew what she was doing.
Brad managed to get another punch in before she could finish putting him where she needed him, but even with her lip split from his skull ring, Val didn’t relent. Using leverage, she rolled them so she was underneath Brad, and with him disoriented, she wrapped both her legs around his neck, squeezing with all her might as she hyperflexed his dominant arm up and away from his head. Within seconds, he was asleep, and though she knew it wouldn’t be for long, it would give her enough time to fireman carry him through the front door and out to his car. Fishing his keys from his pocket, she took hers off the ring, and then got out from under him, moving him into the proper position. Once he was over her shoulders, Val moved out to his Jeep, opening the door with her foot before tossing him across the two front seats, dropping his keys in before locking the door and slamming it closed. Val sprinted back inside as she heard the distinct sound of movement coming from behind her, and with the door locked and deadbolted, she made a beeline for her bag and her gun. Though she was expecting it, the loud thud of Brad trying to get back in still startled her, and Val undid the safety, knowing that while the door would hold, he might try to get in through the front window. Making sure she had a clear line of sight to both entrances, Val stayed silent, waiting and listening to his anger escalate and then deflate when he realized he had no options. Axel stood by her, growling low, a warning if ever there was one.
“YOU FUCKING CUNT! GIVE ME MY SHIT BACK NOW !!” His rage was unlike anything she’d seen from him in the two years they’d been together. Teeth gritted together, Val grabbed one of her storage bins from the front closet and made quick work of gathering what little he had at her place. Sprinting up the stairs with it all, she opened her bedroom window, and without a word of warning, dumped it all onto the front lawn, not caring if his precious Xbox broke, or if his phone got a cracked screen in the process.
“Come here again and I will FUCKING END YOU!” She yelled down, Brad letting out a sound that was pure rage as he realized all his shit had been dropped from a height. Closing the window, Val pulled up the number to a 24/7 locksmith and dialed, smiling when she heard the Jeep peel off.
The pain of the hits was forgotten in favor of securing her doors until the locksmith showed, Val only stopping to splash cold water on her face, her lip stinging, but not enough to indicate she needed stitches. Sitting by the window, she watched for any sign that Brad was catching a second wind and coming back, but after fifteen minutes, a work truck was the only car to drive down her street. Seeing the name of the company she’d called emblazoned on the side, Val went to the door and met the old man who got out with tools in hand.
It took over three hours to change the locks and make four new keys, and by the time the man was done and tipped handsomely for his trouble, all Val could think about was a shower and her bed. Standing under the spray, beer in hand, she finally let the adrenaline slip from her system, relaxing each muscle until she seemed to be one with the water. Her eyes opened under the spray as she realized that through it all, even in the midst of the fight, all she could think about was Ray and the time they’d spent together. Not once, even during testing her vest, had he been overly-rough with her, even though he easily could have been under the guise of making sure her Kevlar was safe. Though she knew Ray had a dark side--she’d already seen him get pissed at Bosco for failing to get a particular code for the bank cameras--his anger was nothing like Brad’s and she was nearly certain that even if she fucked up badly, he’d never raise his hand to her. Ray was a lot of things--career criminal, former Marine, all-around tough guy--but his lines were distinctly drawn in the sand, and hurting women was far past acceptable for him and all the other men in the group.
Val nearly face-planted the bed once she was done showering, turning at the last second as she remembered her facial injuries. Laying there, looking at the ceiling, she wondered how the rest of the crew would react when she showed up with a shiner and a split lip amongst other bruises. Most of all, she thought of how Ray would react. She knew Enson would want to track Brad down immediately, but she could talk him down easily enough. Bosco would follow the lead of whoever had the best idea, but Ray was the wildcard. She wasn’t sure she’d be able to stop him from finding Brad and maiming him, and even though she’d kicked his ass, Val knew she hadn’t left a single mark on him, all of her moves focused on incapacitating him, not hurting him.
Despite her exhaustion, sleep wouldn’t come, and with the summer heat leaving a wet blanket over the city, Val knew she wouldn’t be nodding off any time soon. Getting up, she put on a pair of jeans, a black tank top, and moved to her storage closet to pull out her M4, a gun she hadn’t used in years. Though the one she would have with her on Monday was unregistered, she knew she needed to brush up on field stripping it, not wanting to run into a situation in the heat of the moment. As she took apart the carbine, Val couldn’t help but let her thoughts drift back to Ray, a smile crossing her face as she thought back to earlier in the day, and all the jokes they’d tossed back and forth between them. A curl of arousal spread through her as she remembered him yanking her by the front of her vest, mimicking how someone might try and separate her from the rest of the group in the middle of the heist were they unlucky enough to have some wannabe-hero get loose from their zip ties. He’d pulled her so close that she had to crane her neck to look up at him, Val not forgetting the heat behind his gaze, the knowing smirk, Ray fully aware of what the proximity was doing to both of them after their day at the range. If Val were honest with herself, she’d admit to almost going in for a kiss, but because they were working together--and because Brad still mattered up until a few hours ago--she’d resisted temptation and kept that last little bit of distance between them. Still, she knew the next meeting would be harder than normal, not only because of her injuries, but because of her quickly-building attraction to Ray.
Though she wasn’t ashamed of her injuries, Val wanted to be able to actually drive into the warehouse where they held some of their meetings without causing a commotion, so come sunrise, she slipped on a snapback, threw a bomber over her tank top and drove out to the spot by the pier where they kept the majority of their tools. Val was a little relieved that Ray had his back to her car as she pulled in, hoping to be fully out of the truck before she was surrounded by dudes wondering what the fuck had happened. Coffees in one hand, the three copies of her key in the other, Val slung her backpack over her shoulder and tried her best to look nonchalant as she approached one of the workbenches where Enson, Bosco, and Ray were standing.
“Morning,” she murmured, taking a seat before setting the four-pack of coffees down in the center of the table, all three men barely looking up as they reached for the caffeine. It wasn’t until each went to take a sip that they realized there was something on the lid. Val watched in silence as they all slipped their copy of her key from the lid, each looking at it in confusion before three pairs of eyes met hers.
“Figured it was time y’all had your own set. In case I somehow miss an alarm,” she joked, her laugh cut short by one of Ray’s hands cupping her face and tilting it up. When the dim lights of the warehouse weren’t enough, he slipped her snapback off, and the look of concern was one Val knew she’d never forget. It was instinctive, and the fact that it came before rage by a long shot, endeared Ray to her even more. Oddly, she found him focusing not only on her injuries, but on her actual eyes, Val realizing Ray wasn’t seeing just the bruising and the split lip, but her exhaustion as well. He didn’t miss a thing, and for once, she wished he were a little less perceptive.
“What happened?” He asked, his voice softer than she expected, his frown unmoving as he slowly turned her face from side to side, inspecting every last inch of it.
“Brad do this? Where he at, Val? I’mma kill him. Where he live at?” Enson was already pacing, his anger palpable. Bosco merely stood with his arms crossed, the frown of disgust clear on his face.
“I handled it, E. It’s done. He’s out. He’s not coming back unless he has a death wish, believe me. “
“Fuck that! I know how you handle shit, Val! You probably didn’t even leave a scratch on that motherfucker! He needs to know how it feels. Fuck that!”
“No, I probably didn’t. But I did choke him the fuck out with my thighs and his shoulder probably doesn’t feel all that great this morning.” She replied calmly, Val unable to keep from feeling a little disappointed when Ray let go of her face.
Val watched Ray assess the situation, and wasn’t surprised in the slightest when he took a step back, making sure to look at all three of them. “Take the day. None of us are gonna get any work done when we’re all riled up. Enson, go home, spend some time with your family. Bosco, go see your mom. Val…” He paused, Ray realizing he knew nothing about her personal life apart from her now ex-boyfriend’s temper.
“I can’t sleep, “ She answered quickly, Val shaking her head, still feeling like she was running on adrenaline fumes, despite the hours that had gone by.
“I was gonna say, let’s go for a drive,” Ray smiled a bit, shaking his head as he silently asked for her keys again. “I can drive,” Val replied even as she handed over the keys. “I know you can, but I want you to rest, and since you’re not planning on sleeping any time soon, the least you can do is chill in the passenger seat.” Val had no comeback to his logic, and relenting, grabbed her hat and he bag and followed him back to her truck.
Slumping into the seat, she had half a mind to slide the hat over her eyes to try and nap, but being alone with Ray kept her up for an entirely different reason.
“So where we going?” She asked once they’d pulled away from the warehouse and back onto the main roads, Val noticing that they were heading towards the water instead of inland.
“Somewhere quiet where Brad can’t bother you. Brad. I don’t think I’ve ever met a Brad that I trusted. Actually, now that I think of it, the only Brad I ever knew was the grunt that kept trying to scam the PX for batteries. That fuckin’ guy had so many gadgets, it was ridiculous.” Val laughed softly, instantly regretting it when it tugged at her bruised eye.
“I know. What can I say? He was cute, I was drunk, shit happened.”
“No, god no. I was drunk, not passed out. Besides, I only go to one bar and the owner knows my habits. If he’d seen any of that shit go down, he would’ve been on his ass so fast. Nah, he was...he was charming. He liked that I was in the military, but now I know that was just ‘cause his version of a military chick included short skirts and crop tops, y’know what I mean? When he found out his girlfriend had a Carbine and could actually kill someone, he was just kinda...Stuck. I should’ve known what he was when I saw how he treated his ma, but I figured I could change him. Can’t change a grown man, no matter how juvenile he is. He definitely showed his colors last night though. Wonder if he’s ever hit his mom... Wouldn’t put it past him.” Val explained, shaking her head at her own stupidity.
“Not for nothing, but he clearly bit off more than he could chew. Woman like you, needs a man . Not a boy.” Ray smirked as he pulled into the driveway of a condo a few blocks from the beach.
“Are you angling right now?” Val laughed again, pulling off her sunglasses to really look at him, wondering if he’d give her that same bashful smile he had at the range. Instead, she watched as he put the car in park, unbuckled and turned to face her.
“And if I was?” He replied, Ray jerking his chin up in a challenge, his smile self-assured and just as smartass as Val liked it. This time, it was her own cheeks that burned, Val pulling her lower lip behind her teeth as she smiled, feeling butterflies in her stomach as she did her best to keep his gaze as intensely as he was holding hers.
“I’d say...You have a pretty good angle,” she finally replied, undoing her seatbelt and crawling across to the driver’s seat where she made quick work of finding her spot in his lap.
“Not gonna lie, been wanting to do this since we went for that drive,” she murmured as she cupped his face in one hand, the other slung over his broad shoulder. Val let out a soft hiss of enjoyment as both of his hands cupped her ass unabashedly, Ray pulling her closer, his eyes never once leaving hers. Without hesitation, she leaned down for a kiss, Ray reciprocating instantly as his hands slid up her sides, fingertips slipping under her shirt to graze over her soft skin. Val’s hand found his head, stroking over his short buzz, wishing it were a little longer so she could give it a good tug, but knowing that as a Marine, she’d probably never see Ray with anything longer. Still, it was enough to earn her a noise of enjoyment from him, and she couldn’t help the smile that crossed her face, even in the kiss.
“I’m not doing this in the car. C’mon,” Ray murmured against her lips once he’d run out of air, his mouth nevertheless moving down her jaw briefly, making it clear to Val how much he wanted her.
Shifting his grip on her, Ray reached for the door and opened it, making easy work of getting them both out. Val couldn’t keep the giggle from leaving her lips when it was clear that to Ray, she might as well have been a feather for how easy he was carrying her. Taking the keys from his pocket, she locked her truck as he moved them through the door, Ray closing it with his foot before turning her so she could lock it behind them.
Val didn’t waste time, her lips finding his neck as he walked them to the back of the condo and into the master suite. Ray’s own mouth was equally busy just behind her ear, Val pulling her lips off his skin only slightly to let out a soft moan, a shiver running through her as he found one of her spots.
She could only let out a shriek of amusement when she suddenly found herself flying through the air, landing on Ray’s bed with a bounce and a half, Val’s smile beaming as she enjoyed the stunt. Her smile was quickly replaced by a look of desire as she watched Ray stand to his full height and make quick work of his button-down and the undershirt beneath it. She knew he was tattooed, but the extent of it was nevertheless a turn-on, each piece of ink obviously chosen with care. Val felt heat curl and slink inside her as she mirrored his actions, losing her bomber, tank, and bra, leaving only her dog tags to rest between her breasts. Kicking off her sneakers, Val rid herself of her socks at almost the same time Ray did, glad that unlike Brad, he didn’t keep his on during sex.
Sitting up on her elbows, Val watched with a hooded, lustful gaze as Ray undid his belt and dropped trou, his black boxer briefs only staying on for a moment before they too were thrown into the growing pile of clothes by the door. Her mouth dropped open a bit as she took in his half-hard cock, Val knowing she was making a noise of desperation, but not caring in the slightest. Uncut and thick, she knew he’d fill her up and then some, and couldn’t fathom how big he got when fully erect. More than anything, she appreciated the fact that he didn’t shave it all off like Brad and so many of her other exes did. Even nude, Ray was all man, and Val felt her hips rolling of their own volition, more than ready for what he was willing to give her.
Another peel of laughter escaped her when Ray yanked her down the mattress by her ankles, his deft hands undoing her jeans and pulling both them and her boy-shorts down in one fell swoop. It wasn’t until she caught his gaze, that she realized his actions weren’t done out of an attempt at humor, but because he wanted her with the same intensity that he showed in all other areas of his life. It made Val feel grateful and proud, knowing that even if they were diving into this head first, that she actually mattered enough for him to invest his personal time in, that she was important to him.
When she realized that Ray was kneeling, Val felt a rush of intense arousal, knowing full well what was about to happen. Her hips legs spread for him as she felt his scruff against her inner thigh, Val swallowing against a quickly-drying throat as she watched his lips move precariously close to her pussy. It had been ages since a man had eaten her out, and Brad refused to do it even after countless blowjobs. Val hoped she didn’t come apart at the seams, but judging from how mere kisses felt against the sensitive skin of her inner thigh, she didn’t hold out much hope. She knew she was squirming when Ray put two strong forearms on her belly to hold her still, Val’s mouth falling open the moment she felt his lips against her. Eyes closing for a moment, she hitched out a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding as his tongue dipped between her folds, licking a clear strip all the way to her clit. When his eyes flicked up to hers, one eyebrow cocked in question, Val immediately felt self-conscious, waiting to hear whatever critique it was Ray had for her. Instead, he kissed over her clit before nibbling gently on her thigh, taking his time with his words.
“It’s been a while, huh? I’m gonna go out on a limb and say Brad wasn’t handling his business properly. That ends today. Close your eyes, lay back, and let me take care of you, babe.” Val let out a sigh, dropping back against the mattress, her fears assuaged as he brought her legs up over his shoulders. Licking her lips, she turned her head to one side so she could watch, emotion building at the same pace as her arousal, Val knowing that her time with Ray was going to be one for the books if this was how he was starting things out.
While she hated people who ate loudly, Val’s one exception was when it came to eating pussy or giving blowjobs. Loud, wet, and messy were all gold standard in her book, and it seemed Ray felt the same, as his lips and tongue were anything but quiet as he resumed his torment of her pussy. His wet mouth felt incredible, and Val let out the first of several moans as she felt his tongue circle her entrance before flicking back up to her clit.
Her head tipped back in utter elation as she heard him moan hungrily, Ray feasting on her as though she were a seven-course meal, his enthusiasm not going unnoticed in the slightest. A high-pitched squeak left her lips when his tongue suddenly went into hyper-speed, flicking over her clit repeatedly before slowing to lick her from top to bottom again. Sultry open-mouthed kisses had her hips canting, Val unable to remember the last time the sex was this good. She sat upright when she felt his tongue snake inside, her legs falling open for him, begging him silently to do whatever he wanted as long as he kept making her feel that way.
“Ray, Ray, Ray! Fuck” She panted, reaching for his head, not to push him down, but to scratch lightly at the scruff of his neck, urging him on. His beard tickled her clit and inner thighs as he focused on licking inside her, adding to the many sensations his mouth was already providing. The sounds between her thighs got wetter and Val knew it was only partially from his mouth; her arousal was overwhelming and she knew she was giving him plenty to lick.
“Fuck, Ray. I’m gonna--” Her words were staccato, cleaved by heavy inhales, her lungs never quite getting the full expanse of air she needed. Another slide of his tongue inside her sent her thighs shaking, Val digging her heels into his flanks, terrified, yet desperate, to come. She worried that she’d be one-and-done considering how long it had been, but with every lap of his tongue, she cared less and less about finishing too quickly and more and more about feeling his mouth move over her. It was the vacuum-like sucking of her clit into his mouth that did her in, Ray doing his tongue-flicking trick on her swollen clit, and sending her screaming his name over the edge.
He didn’t ease off the momentum just because she’d come, Ray instead kissing up her shuddering abs and pausing to flick one of her nipples with his tongue before his mouth found hers in a deep, hungry kiss. When she pulled away to catch her breath, Val cupped his face in both hands, locking eyes with him. Stroking over his skin for a moment, she couldn’t help but feel a tinge of fear at what was coming in two days’ time. Now that she’d connected with him this way, being impartial was impossible. She cared for him, and he obviously cared for her; it was going to complicate things, one way or another. Arousal won out in the end however, and Val let a smirk curl her lips.
“You have two seconds to get inside me. Don’t hold back, and don’t even think about going for a rubber. I’m on the shot.”
The words were rushed and whispered, but she got her point across, Ray’s own eyes darkening with desire as he kissed her again, reaching for her hands and pulling them up over her head. Holding both her wrists easily with one of his large hands, Ray lined up and sunk in, both of them moaning low at how incredible it felt. There were few sensations better than that first push in, and they both took a moment to relish in it, Val breaking out of his hold to slip her hands down the expanse of Ray’s back, barely reaching his ass to push him flush against her. Lips meeting in another famished kiss, Val moaned into his mouth as he began thrusting, his hips moving fluidly to give her long, deep strokes.
It didn’t take long for the pace to pick up, Ray pulling her hips flush as he got up on his knees. Sliding her legs over his shoulders once more, he bent her in half as he moved into something of a squat, Val feeling every inch of his power as he mounted her like a wild animal. The new angle hit every spot inside her and she felt the world begin to spin as her body pushed back against his, craving more. Ray’s hips snapped hard against her own, Val crying out his name repeatedly as each thrust hit its mark, his own moans doing wonders for her ego as she knew he was feeling just as good as she was. Wrapping her arms around his neck, she brought him down for a searing kiss, both of them sweating as they exerted all their energy. She held on tight as her mouth found his neck, the smell of his cologne making her even wetter as Ray rammed into her without respite, growling and groaning as his own pleasure built.
Val screamed as he fucked her even faster, unable to even catch a breath between each deep, rutting, thrust. Her clit utterly forgotten in favor of the throbbing pleasure he was building inside her, Val’s orgasm not only caught her off guard, but made her own hips jerk wildly against his, not wanting him to stop his movements even if he wanted to.
“Fuck, Val! Fuck, fuck, fuck! Holy shit!” Ray grunted, his movements going one speed higher as his own pleasure came through, Val’s eyes going wide as she felt a second orgasm slam through her thanks to the change in pace. With one last vicious cleave of his hips, Ray put his full weight on her as he came, giving her only enough room to move her legs from his shoulders to his waist. Val smiled ear-to-ear as his head plopped onto her chest, Ray just as spent as she was. Stroking her fingers over his hair, she tightened and released around him, milking him for every last drop and pressing out a few more of his intoxicating moans in the process.
“Jesus fuck, Val. You’re somethin’ else, babe,” he exhaled on a breathless chuckle, Ray shaking his head slowly, unwilling to move for a few moments, enjoying her touch far too much.
When he finally did, it was only to roll them over so that Val was on top, Ray making no move to pull out even as he wrapped his arms snug around her.
“You needed that. I could tell. Especially after the whole punching bag thing,” Ray murmured, kissing Val’s temple as he pulled up the top sheet, knowing that with all the sweating they’d done, she’d be shivering despite the California heat soon enough.
“Needed it, but couldn’t get it until now,” Val agreed, relaxing her legs on either side of his hips, her head resting over his heart for a moment before she tipped it back up to give him a tender kiss, her silent way of thanking him for taking care of her needs as a woman.
“Don’t pull out. I like how you feel inside me,” she whispered against his lips, Ray nodding, his hazy expression of utter relaxation making her chuckle a little. From the looks of it, they’d both needed the release, and Val for one was glad they got it with each other and not with other people; it made every last bit of tension between them melt away.
Closing her eyes, she hugged him just as close as he held her, Val finally feeling the wispy breeze of sleep start to blanket her, bringing her the rest she so desperately needed.
So I combined Chapters 5 and 6. They seemed better off together. As always, song titles are chapter titles, and it's pretty obvious where one ends and the other starts. ;)
She’d forgotten how hot and stifling Kevlar could be when sitting in a metal box in insufferable heat. Still, as she sat behind the wheel of the van they’d rigged for the job, Val couldn’t help but feel a little more alive than she had in the last few years. Whether it was her time with Ray, just being back on a crew in general, or because she’d kicked Brad to the curb, she wasn’t sure. What she did know, was that despite the heat, despite only being tasked to sit in the van and drive, when her time came, she was putting the pedal to the floor and doing what she knew she was the best at.
Cathay had a few cars in the lot and a few more in the drive-thru. For noon on a weekday, it was busier than Val would’ve liked, but since the crew always tried not to stack up a body count, she was assured that those with the misfortune of being in the bank--lest they try anything to prevent the guys from doing what they were there for--would come out shaken, but no worse for wear.
“Alright, everyone knows the drill. In and out. Enson, you take the vault, Bosco you’re in charge of phones, and I’ll handle the flex cuffs. Val, you know the rendezvous point, get there and wait for instruction.”
Val nodded, knowing that it was ultimately safer for everyone if she played bus driver instead of sitting in front or behind the bank waiting to pick them up and make a getaway. It wasn’t the 70’s, and smash and grabs nowadays usually ended with the loss of life, not motion picture deals. She’d drop them with precision and wait at the predetermined spot so they could all head back to the warehouse without looking like anything was amiss.
Looking around, she made sure everyone was ready to go. A cool calm spread over everyone as she put the van in drive, slowly rolling it forward. Just as she was about to turn, something caught her attention out of the corner of her eye. Making sure not to slam the brakes, Val squinted behind her shades, trying to confirm what she thought she’d seen.
“Val? What are you waiting for, let’s go,” Ray murmured, looking at her instead of looking in the same direction she was, confusion written clearly across his face.
“Hold up. Don’t put your mask on, and keep your gun down. I think the bank’s under surveillance. Discreetly look out your window. Tan, older model Ford. Guy inside’s wearing a standard issue vest.” Val explained, never once taking her eyes off the guy. With the van having only the windshield and two front windows from which to see out of, Enson and Bosco were left in the dark, but both knew better than to try and take a peek.
“Yup. I see him. Good lookin’ out,” Ray said on a sigh, his eyes moving back towards the front as Val slowly pulled out and u-turned to exit the lot. As they passed the unmarked, she couldn’t help but take a second peek, wanting to know exactly who had put a wrench into their plan. Up close, the man looked too old and too grizzled to still be doing fieldwork, his salt and pepper hair and deep wrinkles lending themselves more to a grandpa than a guy wearing a vest and a badge.
Val tried to drive as normally as any other motorist, knowing full well that she would look suspicious if she tried to drive ‘perfectly’. Despite her racing heart, and her eyes darting to the mirrors every few seconds, Val got them out of the line of sight of the cops without incident or a tail. Her hands relaxed on the steering wheel only when she’d gotten on the interstate, the van disappearing among the sea of traffic seamlessly.
The van was silent the whole way back to the warehouse, every occupant immersed in ‘what if’s and worst case scenarios that were narrowly avoided. Ray’s face was a storm cloud, the leader remembering full well his last few (and arguably hardest) days in the pen, the memories refueling his desire to never go back. Scanning his face at a light, Val wanted nothing more than to reach out and take his hand, seeing the stress plain as day, a rarity for the head of their crew.
As she put the van in park, Val decided the best way to rid Ray and the rest of the gang of their disappointment was with food. Hopping down, she smiled for the first time all day.
“Boys, I know today was a let-down and could’ve gone sideways like a motherfucker, so while it won’t make up for that sweet, sweet, green, I’m inviting all of you to my newly Brad-free place for dinner and beers. On me.” Enson was the first to grin, Bosco giving her a dap shortly after. Ray merely raised an eyebrow, his smirk telling Val everything she needed to know.
“So you can cook, huh. Anything you’re not good at?” Ray grinned as he pushed the cart down the meat aisle of the grocery store. Smiling warmly, Val shrugged innocently.
“I suck at plumbing? Home repair of any sort, really. Ask Enson how old the fist-sized hole in my hallway is,” she winked, quickly adding, “ my fist, not Youknowwho’s.”
Ray shook his head, chuckling. “Hope you invested in a punching bag after that. Or a club membership.” Looking over her shoulder at him, Val pretended to look confused, “What? Those exist? I never knew!”
Bumping her side into his playfully, she quickly looked around to make sure the rest of the crew wasn’t in sight before lifting up onto her toes to kiss Ray gently. Her heart skipped a beat when he cupped her face, deepening the kiss without a moment’s hesitation. Though Val had done her best to keep from assuming things, it was nice to know Ray seemed to be on the same page as far as their relationship went.
“Have you told them yet?” She asked, figuring it was best he do it since the guys--especially Bosco--were on his crew long before she joined. “Nah, but I figure tonight’s as good a night as any. Besides, I’m not one for hiding ladies, crew member or not,” Ray replied, licking his lips in a way Val knew wasn’t intentionally sexy, but made her temperature rise nevertheless.
With Enson and Bosco returning, arms loaded with beers, sides, and dessert, Val was further impressed when Ray didn’t put a ‘professional’ distance between them, but instead kept her right where she was when they parted from the kiss. Though Enson noticed, he didn’t say anything, knowing that in time one or both of them would fess up and he’d have ample time to razz them then.
Settling on four racks of ribs to feed the three bottomless pits in the crew, Val threw them in the cart just before doing a double-take at someone she could have sworn was Brad. Shaking her head, she did her best to ignore the hairs that stood up on the back of her neck, Val reminding herself that she was in a public place and had absolutely nothing to get spooked about, least of all Brad.
“Yo, you okay?” Bosco asked, bringing Val back to the present, all three of the boys looking around, trying to figure out what had caused her to stop dead in her tracks.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Val dismissed, putting on a smile for everyone’s sake as she indicated the last aisle they needed to go down to get bread.
“One of you two better have grabbed a case of soda. I’m not drinking beer all night,” she called as she walked ahead to get the thick cut slices she planned on making into garlic bread, Val unable to shake the feeling of being watched even as they headed for the checkout.
The feeling eased the closer they got to her house, and by the time she turned the corner onto her street, it was all but gone. The group’s mood had lifted considerably too, excitement over booze, food, and putting anything they wanted to watch on the TV making all three men start doing the usual back-and-forth guys tended to do when in a good mood.
Getting out, Val grabbed the beer, pretending to run away with it, only to be overtaken by Ray carrying all the ribs. “Cheater, you’ve got a longer stride!” She teased, playfully smacking his ass with her free hand, the move earning a raised eyebrow from Enson that Val didn’t miss.
“Oh, it’s like that?” Enson asked, whistling low and scratching his chin.
“It’s like that,” Val confirmed with a smirk, shrugging as though Enson were the last to find out the news and not one of the first. Bosco just shook his head, rolling his eyes, his smile saying it all. Unlocking the door, Val let the guys in first, looking forward to a good night with friends and maybe an even better night with Ray once Enson and Bosco left.
Unable to resist, she gave Ray’s ass one final grab, sticking her tongue out when he jumped, the two sharing a smile before a voice called out, cutting through the moment like a crack of thunder.
“HEY! WHAT THE FUCK, YOU FUCKING SLUT!?!”
Turning, Val wasn’t surprised when she saw Brad standing in the street, knowing he could never leave well enough alone. Shaking her head, she was about to call back when she felt a whoosh of air blow past her, followed by two more, Val looking up in time to see Ray get inches away from Brad’s face. The food all set inside, she took their cue and set the beer down carefully before closing the door and moving to catch up to the rest of the crew.
Towering a good seven inches over Brad, Ray looked like a bull about to charge at the slightest provocation. Silent, he stared Brad down, a smirk almost tugging at the corner of his lips, Ray daring Brad to do or say anything else.
“Step up big man. I beat that bitch’s ass, yours won’t be any different.”
“Brad, shut up he’s--” Val started, her eyes closing as she saw Ray cock back a fist and aim it exactly at Brad’s orbital socket, “a Marine,” she finished, sighing in exasperation as she watched Brad back up, slightly dazed, and then proceed to rip off his shirt, exposing a body made more from Doritos than barbells.
“Let’s fucking go, Sasquatch!” He growled, Val rolling her eyes and holding out a hand for Ray’s button down as he handed it off blindly.
“Open your fucking yap again and I’ll close it for you permanently,” Ray spoke, his voice low and calm, the same glacier edge of fury she’d heard when he saw her face punctuating each word as he once more got in reach of Brad. The two danced around each other for a bit before Brad made the terrible mistake of trying to take Ray out at the knees.
“He also played football in high school,” Val muttered mainly to herself, wishing she could just call the fight and send Brad on his way, knowing there was no way he was going to win against Ray.
Ray took exactly one step back when tackled, and without hesitation put Brad into a guillotine choke, waiting the required amount of time before letting go, holding only long enough to get the other man to see stars and not--like Val had done--cause him to momentarily pass out.
Letting go, Ray hit him with a left hook just as devastating as the right jab he’d started with, and Val could’ve sworn she heard a crunch as the hit connected. Crumbling to his knees, Brad finally held his arms over his face, a white flag of surrender if Val had ever seen one.
“Come here again and leave in a body bag. Am I clear?” Ray asked, his voice still perfectly even, the scuffle not even causing him to be out of breath.
It was simultaneously the most annoying and most arousing display of male dominance she’d ever seen and Val knew she’d be thinking about it all night, especially once it was just her and Ray alone.
I combined two more chapters, as the heist itself was too short. I also added a song to the list and it can be found HERE.
Chapter 7: Might Not
This one's a little shorter, but I don't think anyone will be complaining. ;)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The rest of the evening went off smoothly, Brad taking the hint and leaving after unintentionally catching a glimpse of the heat both Enson and Bosco were packing. While Val kept guns in the house, she’d always been careful not to leave them in plain sight, not wanting Brad to hurt himself or someone else by mishandling her weapons. With Enson and Bosco wearing them openly, Brad was confronted with the reality of Ray’s words and heeded the warning.
Still laughing as she closed the door behind Enson, Val turned and waited until she heard the sound of Bosco’s truck revving before letting a smirk cross her features, her plans for the night far from over. Ray was in the kitchen putting the last of the plates in the dishwasher when she slid her hands up his broad back and up around his chest.
“Call me old-fashioned, but watching you hand Brad’s ass to him was hot.”
“That motherfucker ever shows up again, I’m keeping my promise and no one’s finding the body,” Ray murmured, his face grim for a moment before he lifted an arm to let Val slide around and hug him from the side. Smiling down at her, Val didn’t miss the concern Ray’s eyes still held over everything that had gone down between her and Brad.
“I don’t doubt it. Just do me a favor though. Don’t get caught.” She whispered, leaning up for a kiss, one which he returned easily.
“By the way, if you want me to fix the hole in the wall, I can do it tomorrow,” Ray added, jerking his chin up to the hallway, making Val chuckle.
“I like it. Adds character,” she joked, shaking her head. “C’mon though. We got better things to do than talk about walls and do dishes.” Val said, sliding one leg behind Ray to close the door on the dishwasher before she quickly set it to run. Though she had a small amount of space between her and her neighbors, the noise from the machine would help mask what she was sure would be far lewder noises.
“Do we?” Ray chuckled, letting Val drag him by the hand down the hall, “Like what?”
“A shower, for one, ‘cause I smell like smoke,” Val grinned, knowing it wasn’t the answer he’d probably expected, but one she intended to turn on its head anyway. There was something fun about being able to tease him and watch as he stepped out of himself for a moment; it was rare, but when it happened, it was beautiful to witness. She wasn’t ready for Ray to close the gap and hug her from behind, his lips finding the soft spot behind her ear with ease. When he spoke, his voice was gravel and smoke, Val feeling a pleasurable shiver run up her spine at his words.
“Can I join you?”
It didn’t take long for them to shed their clothes and hop under the spray. Each took a moment to relax under the warm water before Val dropped to her knees, her eyes mischievous as her gaze met Ray’s. His smile was delighted confusion, and Val watched in triumph as Ray’s eyes fell closed upon the first touch of her mouth to his already half-hard cock.
Like him, she took her time, working every inch she could wrap her lips around, her hand taking the rest. Val had learned quickly that bed was pretty much the only place Ray wasn’t quiet and she used the knowledge to her full advantage, wringing out as many moans and soft growls of indulgence out of him that she could. She knew she was really hitting all the right spots when his hand found her wet curls, Ray’s touch gentle and encouraging, not pushy like other men she’d been with. Looking up amidst the water, she managed to catch a glimpse of his eyes rolling back, and she couldn’t keep from feeling like she’d won a prize, knowing she’d made Ray as crazy with pleasure as he’d done to her before.
Her hands found his ass as she felt his body stiffen, Val still working him even as Ray came. Licking him clean, she couldn’t help the noise of surprise that left her body as Ray picked her up, pinning her to the wall of the shower. With a hungry kiss that was as animalistic as it was passionate, he lined up and let her sink all the way down, Ray swallowing her moans with his mouth as he began to thrust powerfully.
One hand bracing against the wall, the other wrapped firmly around his muscular shoulders, Val could only hold on and scream his name as he worked all her spots. She’d never been with a man who actually knew what he was truly doing in the sack and in that moment, panting as though she’d run a marathon, Val was certain Ray had ruined her for all other men, a notion she was more than comfortable with.
It didn’t take long for her to find the edge and hurtle over it, his name slipping from her lips like a litany, Val curling around Ray’s strong body, trembling from the force of her pleasure, every last thought of Brad forgotten.
We're nearing the end, folks. Only two chapters left! I wanted to thank everyone that's read and left comments so far! Your support makes writing this a breeze and I'm grateful for all the love!! <3
I found peace in your violence...
Val’s ears rang, the sound high-pitched and sharp. Smoke blinded her and the acrid smell of the breaching charges and gunpowder choked her airways. Getting on her stomach, she crawled towards the only source of light she could see. Vision blurred not only from the smoke but from what she was fairly certain was a concussion, she had to stop several times to keep from passing out.
When she was close enough, she stood, bracing against the wall with every inch she managed to get upright. Taking a deep breath, she checked herself and cussed silently when she realized she’d been hit. While it wasn’t a shot that would kill her, if she didn’t get somewhere where she could stop the bleeding, she’d be in trouble.
Looking out at the end of the tunnel she’d plummeted down, Val weighed the risks. Her phone was still on her, so she could wait and hope that one of the guys could snatch her. But with the sound of gunfire still emanating from above, she knew that might be a big ask. Her heart skipped a beat and she had to force herself not to think about the fact that Ray, Enson, and Bosco were all still up there, not having been able to drop down like she unintentionally had.
As she looked around, she tried to piece together where it all went sideways in her mind. The charges had been set correctly, and Enson blew them with the same expertise she’d seen him use back when they all still served. She’d been standing by the vault door when he blew them, and knew the force wasn’t strong enough to blow her back into the hole the charges created. Then she remembered the cop. The first through the door (actually window, since Ray had a habit of locking them in for the duration of the robbery), he’d been the one to shoot her, the force of the bullet throwing her back and down the hole they’d created into one of L.A.’s maintenance tunnels. She was surprised she wasn’t more injured, considering the force of her impact.
A loud thud behind her made Val turn sharply, AR drawn and bullet chambered. The scope on her rifle allowed her to make out Ray’s face and she let out a sigh she didn’t know she’d been holding. Giving him cover, she kept the gun trained on the hole, watching as Bosco and finally Enson jumped down. With her free hand, Val pressed the button on her throat mic, not wanting to call out in case the police were hot on their heels.
“Nice of y’all to join me. Which way out?”
“Very funny. Gate’s open. Go through and hang a right. Car’s right there. You good to drive?”
“As good as I’ll ever be after falling through a fucking hole,” Val replied in a whisper, managing to return Enson’s sass with some of her own, keeping her little problem a secret until they were in the safety of the freeway.
Once Bosco was covering their rears, Val turned and quietly opened the gate, grateful that it opened up to the loading bay of a completely different store and faced the complete opposite direction of the bank. With the van painted to look like a plumbing company, she knew that concealment wouldn’t be an issue and focused on her next task as she got in and fished under the dash for the keys. When everyone was loaded inside and any tell-tale signs of their gear stowed safely in the back, Val drove off, careful to hide her injured shoulder from anyone who could see through her window. She was glad they’d chosen black undershirts to wear, otherwise, she’d have been a dead giveaway, not only to the crew, but to the police as well.
Before pulling away, Val donned a baseball cap and put an empty coffee cup in her free hand, finishing her disguise with a pair of unassuming Oakley’s that damn near every repair contractor she’d ever seen wore. With her hair tied back, it was hard to even make her out as a woman, let alone one who’d just helped rob one of the biggest banks in the city.
Val drove with purposeful laziness as she pulled out from behind the plaza and took a road that led away from the mass of cops that were quickly approaching. Like before, she drove like she was on a Sunday stroll, only opening up the engine when she had to get up to speed for the on-ramp.
Only once she’d merged into the HOV lane did Val allow herself to relax, though her eyes still kept a steady watch on the mirrors, not wanting to be caught unaware of either the cops or traffic. Her left arm began to radiate pain down to her fingers, and before she could stop it, her hand faltered on the wheel, Val catching it before the van veered, but switching driving hands in the process.
Ray didn’t miss the move, his eyes searching her for any sign that something was amiss. “I’m fine. We’re almost there. Who’s buying lunch?” Val intercepted when she caught his gaze, flashing a smirk back to Bosco and Enson through the rearview mirror. It worked on the other two, but Ray was unmoved and she knew she’d be getting dragged into his office the minute they closed the warehouse door.
Sure enough, the moment she hobbled out of the van, Ray was at her side, slinging an arm over her shoulders to keep the action casual to anyone in the warehouse that might be watching. Once inside his office, Ray immediately closed the blinds, went to the cabinet, and pulled out the first aid kit along with a bottle of whiskey. Sliding the bottle across the desk, he jerked his chin in its direction.
“Drink and strip, and don’t try and tell me you’re fine. I can see the blood.” He said, his voice low and full of a pent-up rage Val had last seen when he’d been dealing with Brad. It was then she understood he wasn’t angry at her , but angry that she’d been hurt. Her stress dissipated some and she did as asked, taking off the Underarmor one-handed before slipping down the strap of her bra, giving him full access to the wound; the whiskey remained untouched.
“Full disclosure? I’m pretty sure I saw little birdies after I landed,” she murmured, watching Ray wash his hands in the sink that had originally served as a mechanic’s wash station. Sitting on his desk, she remained quiet as he set up what he’d need in order to patch her up. With everything ready, he snapped on a pair of black latex gloves and looked at her with an expression Val found hard to read. Somewhere between lost and anguished, it wasn’t a look she’d ever seen on Ray before, and it worried her enough that she reached up and cupped his face.
“Hey,” she murmured, ducking to meet his eyes, “what’s going on?”
“Enson talks about leaving the game all the time. About calling it quits and just being a dad. He says he feels guilty every time we go out, wondering if he’s gonna come home to his kids. I never had that problem, ‘cause, let’s face it, I haven’t had anyone to worry about since the service. Today though…” Pressing his lips together, he took a deep, stilted breath through his nose, Ray finally looking up at her.
“Today I thought I lost you. When you went...fucking flying , I thought I was gonna have to bury you in a fucking closed casket,” he whispered, Ray’s eyes hitting the floor just in time for two tears to strike the cement, Val’s own eyes brimming with tears as she realized just how big of an impact her injury had on him. With anyone else, she would’ve called bullshit, would’ve said they were exaggerating, but Ray didn’t play those types of games. In the short time they’d known each other, Val had only seen truth from Ray, and now, watching as he furiously wiped his eyes with his forearm, she knew that it wasn’t simply her getting injured, but that he’d finally found someone to worry about only to nearly have her taken away that was bothering him most.
“So this is it. I don’t...I don’t wanna go through that again. I’ve had enough. Between losing people over in the sandbox, and then today...I’m done.” Val grabbed the back of Ray’s neck just as his shoulders began to shake, understanding full well that fear, that heartache, that level of loss. Like Ray, she too had lost a close friend overseas and she would never forget watching them slip away. Val didn’t wish that kind of pain on anyone, and though she’d had no control over what had happened at the bank, she felt a measure of responsibility for how distressed Ray was. In that moment, Val understood that he’d opened his heart to her and had let her into his life in a way even his friends didn’t get access to. If he wanted to stop, she wasn’t about to stand in his way, nor put herself in the line of fire again.
It took a few moments for him to regain his composure, but when he went to pull away, Val made sure to cup his face with her good hand and kiss him tenderly, wanting him to know she was on the same page. Pressing their foreheads together, he nodded, the two coming to a silent agreement.
“You sure you don’t want that whiskey? This is gonna hurt like a motherfucker.” He asked, wincing, Val just shaking her head.
“I would, but then you might have a harder time waking me up than you would pulling that thing out and slapping a band-aid on it.”
One last chapter!! Can you guess how's it gonna end? :P
Well, you can't go away girl, I'mma need you
She still wasn’t sure on the color, but given the occasion, Val knew anything else would be a little wrong. At least she was tan enough to pull off the white. Standing in front of the mirror she momentarily held her hair up, wondering if it would help the overall look, but then realized it wouldn’t matter. Grabbing her sunglasses, she took one last look at herself and then padded out, grabbing the railing as she went.
“There she is!” Enson crowed, Charlene hooting her approval as Val merely rolled her eyes behind her glasses. “You look great, girl!” Charlene added, patting the seat next to her which Val gratefully accepted.
“Where’d he go?” She asked, looking around and not seeing Ray. With one raised eyebrow, Enson pointed to the last spot Val expected him to point.
“You’ve gotta be shitting me,” Val muttered, taking off her sunglasses and squinting as she made out Ray’s outline against the sun.
“Wish I was, sis. Wish I was,” Enson laughed, leaning back and letting his own sunglasses slip down over his eyes.
“Ray, I swear to god if you fuck yourself up, I’m bringing you back to life to murder you again!” Val yelled up, receiving only a yip of excitement from her other half. “How much did you give him to drink, E?” Enson lifted his hands up in innocence, Charlene turning to make sure her husband didn’t see before she mouthed the words ‘too much’, which only made Val laugh.
“I LOVE YOU, BABE!!!” Ray called out before taking a few steps back to get a running start.
“I LOVE YOU AND I’M GONNA KILL YOU WHEN YOU GET BACK!” Val called in replied, her voice purposely sickly-sweet which made Ray pause and momentarily put his hands on his knees to laugh.
“IT’LL BE WORTH IT!”
“NOT IF YOU HAVE TO PAY CHILD SUPPORT FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE!”
Ray cracked up, barking out a laugh with his head tipped back, that beautiful smile she’d fallen hard for rivaling the sun. Laying back in the lounge chair, Val felt at peace with the man she’d chosen to ride out her days with.
With all eyes on him, Ray took his running start and jumped off the top of the yacht, doing two flips and managing to fall into a perfect dive, leaving even Val impressed. Rubbing her small bump, she exhaled a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding, watching as Ray swam to the ladder and got back on the boat, soaking wet.
Just to be a tease, she waited until he’d almost reached her to lay out on her stomach, something she knew she wouldn’t be getting away with much longer. Val let out a yelp of surprise when her back got covered in cold water at the same time that her ass was playfully patted like each cheek was a bongo.
“Who are you? Matthew McConaughey?” She laughed, turning only to be met with more water as it dripped off Ray’s body. Without hesitating, she grabbed his head and yanked him down for a kiss, Ray moving with her until he was on his knees next to the chair, his hands slipping over her body as though they were in private. Though their chosen family had joined them on the island, Val didn’t mind the PDA; after all, they’d been married a whole two hours, so technically they were on their honeymoon and she’d yet to meet someone who didn’t know that a honeymoon was just an excuse to go on vacation and have sex as much as possible.
“They’re gonna beat our record…” Charlene warned Enson with a smirk, her gaze moving from Enson back to the newlywed couple.
“The hell they are!” Enson objected, sitting up.
“E, I’m not poppin’ out another one. No way in hell!”
“Oh, so you just gonna let them take it then? Just quit, just like that?”
“We have six kids--”
The conversation melted away as Val felt Ray pick her up, his lips never leaving hers as he walked them back to the into the cabin.
“We’re definitely beating their record,” Ray smirked when they finally parted, Val raising an eyebrow as she let Ray lay her down.
“You’re gonna have to catch me first, big guy, and though I’m short, I run real fast,” Val replied, screaming in delight as Ray peppered her face in kisses, leaving her breathless and absolutely ecstatic.
“I did catch you. And I’ll keep catching you until we’re both chasing after each other in walkers,” Ray murmured against her lips before kissing her properly once more, every ounce of love he felt for her poured into the kiss.
“I’ll still beat you then. I’ll put NOS on my walker and do laps around you,” she giggled, cupping his face and staring deep into his eyes with the utmost fondness.
Ray’s eyes were soft with love, the two silently saying everything they needed to say to one another.
“Y’ALL KNOW YOU CAN’T HAVE ANOTHER ONE ‘TILL YOU POP OUT THE FIRST, RIGHT?!” Enson’s voice interrupted the quiet moment, both Val and Ray erupting into laughter, rolling around before ending on their sides, Ray spooning Val. His hand on her bump, he kissing the soft spot behind her ear, his voice tender when he spoke.
“I think he might be lying. I’m gonna try anyway. Worst comes to worst, we both end up feeling good and they get to sit there and listen to how focused we are on beating their record.”
Val just smiled, reaching back and smacking Ray’s ass, Val grateful for everything that one day in the shop had given her, unwilling to change it for anything.
That's it, folks! Hope you enjoyed! Thank you again for everyone who read, left a kudos or a comment. Y'all are the best! :D