My alarm went off, bringing me instantly awake, and as I turned it off, I groaned at the hour showing in bright, red numbers.
It was Friday, but not just any Friday.
The busiest shopping day of the year, and one of the busiest business days for the café.
My dad had started a Black Friday breakfast special a few years ago, and it had become a tradition for a lot of people in town. For five dollars you got a breakfast wrap with egg, cheese, mushrooms, onions, peppers, and choice of bacon, sausage or ham, and a large coffee. Breakfast fast, to go, and easy to eat on the run.
The café opened at six A.M. The cooks had done most of the prep the night before, but they would still arrive an hour early to finish the prep and start making the food. By the time the doors opened, we would have a line of people outside waiting to grab and go.
My dad would also set up a stand on the sidewalk where customers could just pull over and pick up breakfast without getting out of their car.
The café sold hundreds of specials, and that didn’t even count the people who came to sit in the dining room to eat.
And of course my dad had asked us to help out.
Jumping out of bed, I got ready quickly and staggered out of my room, still sleepy, running right into Zan. He looked as sleepy as I felt, but it just made him look sexy. I would have loved to linger and spend time with him, but all we could spare was a quick kiss before going downstairs.
With my parents, we grabbed a fast breakfast of bagels and coffee, barely even speaking because we were all still half-asleep, and were out the door before it was even light.
As we got in the car, I hugged Zan tight. “I’m so sorry about this,” I apologized to him.
He shook his head. “This is our last day working for your dad, so it was bound to be the worst,” he said with a grin. He hugged me back. “Really, baby, it’s okay. I just want to be with you. I don’t care if that is in our beach house or your dad’s café.”
I raised an eyebrow, and he nodded. “Okay, obviously the beach house would be better, but at least we’re together.”
I smiled, thinking again how lucky I was. “I don’t know what I did to deserve you, but I am so lucky I found you.”
Hugging me again, he pressed his lips into my hair. “I am the lucky one, angel, and I will spend the rest of our lives showing you.”
I could see the line of customers already starting outside the café as we drove past and into the parking lot. It was going to be a hell of a day.
I gave Liz another kiss in the car and we separated just inside the door of the café, each going our own ways for our different jobs.
Passing the office, I saw Mr. Parker inside talking to Theresa. Fantastic. Another day of dodging her wandering hands. At least it was our last day to work.
Gathering my bus trays and cleaning supplies, I headed into the dining room
My eyes roamed greedily over Liz. She is so beautiful, so sexy, and I am amazed every day how much she loves me. I certainly was the lucky one, and I wanted her so much. This was a longer day than we had usually worked. The café closed at two P.M, and we were working the whole shift. I didn’t know how I was going to wait to be inside Liz.
I swear I didn’t take my eyes off her as she moved around the restaurant, setting up the waitress stations, but all too soon, Mr. Parker came into the dining room with the first load of breakfast specials, and opened the doors.
From minute one, it was a madhouse, and I was assigned the extra duties of making sure the coffee pots stayed full, and the pile of breakfast burritos stayed high, by bringing them in from the kitchen.
Luckily, Theresa was the one assigned to the drive-up cart on the sidewalk, so I didn’t have to worry about her sneaking a feel in all the chaos.
And on top of the grab and go customers, there were actually more people coming into the café to sit down and eat than I expected. I helped show people to tables, and directed the line of to-go customers to one side to give them more room.
And even though we were all running around, I kept finding Liz. I watched her at the counter where she was handing out specials and condiments, changing money, and taking credit cards with lighting speed. And she still had a genuine smile for each person.
I smiled too. I was the lucky one in so many ways, and my beautiful angel had agreed to spend her life with me.
Liz’s eyes met mine across the room and a soft smile lifted the corners of her mouth. Everything between us was the same, but different at the same time, and it was even better now.
After ten o’clock, we stopped selling the breakfast specials and the to-go customers trailed off, but there was still the restaurant full of people. I took the opportunity to start the dishwasher and tied up two large bags of trash, which I threw over my shoulder and took out the back to the dumpster.
Lifting the lid, I tossed them inside and turned to go back to the café, but with a frown I saw that Theresa was leaning against the door.
“You on a break?” I asked, my voice showing my annoyance.
“Come on Zan,” she purred, “I –“
I cut her off. “I’ve tried to be nice, but you aren’t taking the hint. I’m not interested.”
A mean look crossed her face for a moment but then was gone. “Yeah, you’ve made that pretty clear. Look,” she said, “I’m not looking for happily ever after here. I mean you are pretty ripped and I bet we could have some fun,” she said, looking up and down my body, “but this is about more than that.”
I was confused. “What is it about then?”
She came closer, lowering her voice. “Mr. Parker offered me a thousand dollars if I break up you and Liz.”
I admit I was shocked, although after everything else that had happened I shouldn’t have been.
Theresa was still talking. “Then this morning he said he would give me two thousand if I could get you to kiss me where Liz could see us.”
I nodded. It all made sense now.
“So how about it?” she said. “Easy money. You just plant a big one on me right in front of Liz and I’ll give you five hundred.”
I scowled. “Theresa, it’s not going to happen. I love Liz.”
She shrugged. “So I’ll give you a half. You can tell her after and go have a nice dinner on her Dad.”
I was fuming with anger, but it really wasn’t Theresa’s fault. She was unethical and an opportunist, but Mr. Parker had been the one pushing this. “Look, I would never do anything to hurt Liz. How about you leave me alone the rest of the day, and I’ll give you five hundred.”
She thought about it for a minute and shrugged. “Okay,” she agreed.
We both went inside and I wanted to find Mr. Parker and have it out with him once and for all, but the restaurant was still full of customers, so I would wait until closing.
As I rushed around the restaurant, I couldn’t help looking at Zan as often as I could, and I was so proud of him. He jumped in anywhere he was told, and anywhere he saw a need, helping with whatever he could.
I knew he was a stand up guy, but I think he saved my dad’s ass. Zan helped so much and made things go so smooth, I was going to point it out to my dad if he hadn’t noticed.
I’d seen him head out the back with bags of trash, and I kept waiting for him to come back in. I felt like I just needed to see him.
Finally, I heard the back door shut, and watched eagerly for Zan to come back in, smiling when I saw him. But immediately I noticed the scowl on his face. I’d seen him give that look to other people when he was angry, and it was so surprising to see it now.
Then I saw Theresa. Had she been making an ass of herself again?
Crossing to him, I asked anxiously. “What’s wrong? Is Theresa bothering you again?”
The scowl left his face as he looked at me. “Sorry, baby,” he said, cupping my cheek and kissing my forehead. “Let’s talk about it later, when it’s not so crowded.”
I nodded, but now I was worried. What had she done this time?
I kept my eyes on Zan the rest of the afternoon and saw the scowl return from time to time. He kept looking around the café, as if he was searching for someone, and I was starting to worry.
The rest of the time seemed to drag. From time to time, I would catch Zan’s eyes and he would give me a reassuring smile, but there was none of our usual flirting.
What had happened?
As the café emptied down to the last couple of tables, I went in search or Mr. Parker to confront him. He was in his office and I joined him, shutting the door behind me.
He looked up with a genuine smile. “Zan, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all your hard work today. You really went above and beyond.”
“Thanks,” I said, but couldn’t keep the annoyance out of my tone.
He scowled as he realized something was wrong, but his voice was artificially pleasant. “What can I do for you?”
I didn’t waste any time. “Look, Mr. Parker,” I said, “I know you paid Theresa to try and break up Liz and me.”
For a moment I thought he would deny it, but he just nodded. “You’re a smart guy, Zan. You’ve known from the first time we talked on the phone that I didn’t approve of your relationship with my daughter.”
“Yeah,” I said, “but I thought we might have gotten past some of that. I’m not from a rich or famous family, but I can take care of Liz and see that gets everything in life that she wants, and we love each other very much.”
Mr. Parker looked at me. “Well apparently you’re loyal,” he admitted. “I’ve had that hussy Theresa throwing herself at you all week.”
“And I’m going to have to tell Liz,” I said.
I saw fear cross his face. “Well Zan,” he started nervously, “can’t we just keep this between the two of us? We don’t want to upset Liz.”
I agreed. “I don’t want to upset her, but I also won’t lie to her. We promised each other that we wouldn’t keep secrets.”
“You’re trying to turn Liz away from us,” he accused, getting angry.
I shook my head. “I would never do that. I want Liz to have you in her life. You are her parents, her family, and I would never come between you. I know what it’s like not to have any family and I don’t want that for her. I want her to be with everyone she loves. But if you push her too much, she might turn away from you.
He sank back in his chair, looking suddenly like all the air had gone out of him. “You’re not trying to turn Liz away from us?”
“Of course not,” I assured him. “We wouldn’t be here trying to follow all your rules, working at the café on our vacation if we weren’t trying to get along with you.”
Mr. Parker was shocked into silence.
I continued. “More than anything I want Liz to be happy, and she would never truly be happy if she didn’t have her parents in her life. We all want her to be happy and we might not agree on exactly how to make that happen, but can’t we at least agree that we all love her and start from there?”
He held my gaze for a long moment and finally nodded.
I held out my hand, “Truce?”
He grasped my hand, shaking it firmly. “Truce.”
I motioned over my shoulder, smiling. “I told Theresa if she left me alone the rest of the day I’d give her five hundred dollars. I think you’re on the hook for that one.”
Mr. Parker reluctantly nodded, and a hint of a grin started in one corner of his mouth. “You’re right. I’ll take care of it.”
I saw Zan disappear into the back, and this time he stayed for a while. I kept looking to where Theresa was at the cash register with the last few customers. Maybe Zan just wanted to get away from her for a while.
The last two people left and I was wondering if I should confront Theresa, when Zan and my dad came out of the back.
Dad when to the cash register to start closing out, and Zan came to me.
By now, I was really worried. “Zan,” I said, anxiously, “what is going on?”
“I have something to tell you, angel,” he said softly, “and I think it will upset you, but I also don’t want to keep any secrets.”
My heart was pounding. Had my dad finally done something to chase him away?
I nodded numbly.
“You know how Theresa has been coming on to me all week,” he said, “well, your dad put her up to it?”
“What?” I asked, barely understanding what he was saying, because it was so different than I had expected. “What do you mean?”
He put his arm around me. “Baby, your dad told Theresa if she could break us up, he would give her a thousand dollars.”
I shook my head as the words sank in.
Zan continued. “I think he regrets it. He kind of even apologized.”
I was in complete shock, but the anger was coming quickly.
I looked to where my dad was standing at the cash register, to see he was already looking at me. As our eyes met, I saw his face pale. I opened my mouth, but the ring of the bell above the door drew my attention.
I turned to man who was coming in and was surprised. He didn’t look like our usual customers. He was dressed in dirty clothes and his hair didn’t look like it had been washed in a while. His eyes ran over my body, but I gave him a smile. “I’m sorry, the kitchen is closed. We still have…” my voice trailed off as I saw the knife in his hand. It was long and thin and looked really sharp.
“I’m not here to eat, bitch,” he spat. He motioned with the knife toward the cash register. “Give me all the money if you don’t want to get fucked up.”
I instantly froze I was so scared. I wasn’t sure how it happened, but from his position behind me, suddenly Zan was beside me, wrapping his arm around my shoulder, his presence making me feel a little bit better.
Theresa backed behind my dad as he spoke to the robber. “Of course,” he said instantly, taking a to-go bag off the counter, and starting to stuff money inside.
My dad had always told us to cooperate completely if there was ever a robbery. The money could be replaced, but your life couldn’t.
The robber’s eyes widened as he saw the amount of money going into the bag, and mine did too. I think Theresa had been neglecting to do the safe drops, because the register was overflowing.
“Hurry up!” the robber demanded.
“Sure,” my dad said, still stuffing money into the bag. “Anything you want.”
The man’s eyes darted to me, roaming over my body, and he gave a small smile that made my stomach clench. I didn’t like how he was looking at me at all, like I was a piece of meat. A shiver of revulsion went through me, and I crossed my arms over my chest.
Suddenly the newspaper article that I had seen a few days before flashed through my head. Five robberies of local businesses, and three rapes.
I knew Zan would never let it happen, but I didn’t want him to get hurt or killed trying to protect me.
Dad handed over the money in a bag, and the robber came closer to grab it. I prayed that the guy would leave, but he took a step toward me.
I swear my heart nearly burst with fear, but immediately Zan stepped in front of me, blocking the guy’s path.
I saw a scowl cross the robber’s face, as he focused on Zan. “Get out of my way asshole!”
Zan shook his head. “You should just take the money and leave now, man,” he said. “You can get away clean.”
The guy brandished the knife, waving it vaguely in my direction. “I’m going to have a piece of that before I leave.”
“Not gonna happen,” Zan growled. “She’s mine.”
“Well, tough guy,” the robber said, pointing the knife at Zan, “you’re gonna share.”
He took another step closer, and Zan stepped the same direction, blocking the guy from getting to me.
The robber jabbed the knife toward Zan, threatening him, and took another step forward. “Get out of the way, asshole, or your girlfriend will have to watch me fuck you up first.”
My heart was beating so fast I thought I might pass out. I was so scared for Zan. The robber had a knife, and Zan was unarmed.
Visions flashed through my mind of Zan getting stabbed, and slowly sinking to the floor as blood soaked his t-shirt. Then I saw myself kneeling next to him, pressing my hands to his wound. Blood was everywhere, and Zan’s face was so pale, I didn’t know if he was going to make it.
I couldn’t let that happen.
I didn’t know what I was going to do, or say, but his name left my lips in a gasp, “Zan.”
Suddenly Zan moved. His arms shot out so fast I could barely see what was happening. His right hand balled into a fist and hit the robber in the stomach, and at the same time his left hand grabbed the knife, and made a twisting motion. Once again Zan’s right hand moved, punching the guy in the face.
The next moment the robber was on the floor with a bloody mouth, gasping for breath, and Zan was standing over him, holding the knife.
“Dumb fuck,” Zan snarled down at him.
I couldn’t believe what just happened. I knew Zan had been in some fights when he was younger, and must have some skills to defend himself, but I was totally in awe of what he’d done.
Without taking his eyes off the guy, Zan spoke over his shoulder. “Mr. Parker, you should call the police.”
I think my Dad was in shock too, because it took him a moment to answer. “Um, there’s…”
The rest of his answer was cut off by the sounds of many pairs of running boots and shouts from behind us.
“Drop the knife!”
“Hands on your head!”
“On your knees!”
Immediately Zan complied, throwing the knife to the side, out of the reach of the robber on the floor, and put his hands on his head.
“Wait,” I called out, reaching for Zan, but I was surprised that my Dad objected too.
“No,” he said to the police, motioning to Zan, “not him. He’s my daughter’s fiancé. He took the knife away from that guy.” He pointed to the guy still on the floor. “He’s the one who robbed us.”
My mouth dropped open. “Did my Dad just call Zan my fiancé?”
The police rushed past Zan, and he slowly lowered his arms, and wrapped them around me as he got to his feet.
“Zan,” I gasped, clinging to him.
“Are you okay, angel?” he asked softly, stroking my hair.
I was still shaking, but I felt so much better just being held in his strong arms.
“I was so scared,” I breathed.
He kissed my head. “You know I’d never let anything happen to you,” he said.
“I know,” I assured him. “That’s why I was scared for you.”
And then my Dad was there. He put a hand on my head, and one on Zan’s shoulder. “Thank you for protecting Liz. You risked your life for her.”
Zan looked at my Dad. “I love her, sir. I’d do anything for her.”
My Dad nodded. “I believe you.” His hand remained on Zan’s shoulder. “Zan,” he started, looking ashamed, “I haven’t been treating you very well, and I want to apologize. You are a good man, just like Liz has been telling us.”
Zan released me with his right hand, and offered it to my Dad. “Thank you, Mr. Parker,” he said softly. “That means a lot to me.”
My Dad took his hand and smiled.
I threw my arms around my Dad, hugging him tightly. “Oh, Daddy.”
He hugged me back, speaking softly into my hair. “You said Zan was good for you, and we should have believed you. I’m sorry I tried to break you up. We should have trusted your judgment.”
Tears gathered in my eyes. “Thank you, Daddy.”
The police took the asshole robber away in handcuffs, and then they had some questions for us.
Liz was still shaking, and I was worried about her. I thought she might be in shock. I took her to a booth, where I could hold her, and wrapping my arms around her I pressed her against my body and rubbed her back and arms, trying to warm her up.
Adrenaline was still rushing through me, thinking about what could have happened to my angel. I hate men who hurt women.
When the guy had first come in the café I’d sensed something wrong about him, but the way he’d looked at Liz had pissed me off like nothing else.
I didn’t want him anywhere near her, and there was no way I was going to let him touch her.
It had been obvious to me from the way he’d been waving the switchblade around that he really didn’t know how to handle it. Fortunately one of the skills from my rough past was defending myself against a knife attack, and disarming the attacker.
I had to admit that I was in shock a bit myself, but not from the robbery.
After days of disapproval and rudeness from Liz’s father, I was amazed that he had suddenly seemed to accept me. My actions had proved to him that I loved Liz, and would do anything for her.
Zan kept his arm around me the whole time we talked to the police, and I leaned against him absorbing his warmth and strength. He always makes me feel so safe.
As soon as the police were finished with us, my Dad insisted on driving us home. We walked out to his car, and he opened the back door. “Lizzie, sit in the back with Zan,” he insisted.
I nearly cried again. I couldn’t believe how quickly my Dad had changed his mind, but I was so happy. I wanted so much for my parents to love him.
It only took us a few minutes to get home, and my Mom could tell right away that something was wrong. I had no idea what my face looked like, but both Zan and my Dad had serious, almost frozen expressions.
Zan wrapped me in a throw that he took from a nearby chair, and held me on the sofa as my Dad told my Mom everything that happened.
“Zan was amazing,” my Dad said. “He didn’t know I had a panic button at the cash register, and he stood up to the robber even though the guy had a knife. Then the robber went for Liz. I was practically in shock and I knew there was no way I could have gotten to them fast enough, but Zan was there and stepped between them, protecting her. He risked his life for her, and he disarmed the guy too.”
Before he finished the story my Mom was crying, and she hugged us both. “Thank you, Zan, for keeping our girl safe.”
And suddenly I was exhausted.
It was only a little after four in the afternoon but I wanted nothing more than to go to bed and fall asleep in Zan’s arms. But I knew my parents wouldn’t allow it, so I put my head on Zan’s chest, and didn’t say anything about how tired I was, just so I could stay with him a little longer.
Zan’s arms tightened around me, and he gently kissed my forehead.
For a moment I didn’t notice the room had gone silent, until my Dad spoke up. “Lizzie, it’s been a long, terrible day, why don’t you go to bed?”
“No,” I said stubbornly. “I’m not …”
My Dad smiled. “Would you like Zan to stay with you tonight?”
I lifted my head, meeting my Dad’s eyes. “Really?”
He and my Mom both nodded and smiled, and I got up, rushing to them, hugging them both. “Thank you.”
Zan stood behind me. “Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Parker,” he said. “I’d have been up worrying about her.”
My Mom smiled at him. “Me too. But now, maybe we can all get some sleep tonight.”
I let Zan take me upstairs, and we both went into my room. He shut the door behind us and I moved into his arms.
“Are you sure you’re okay, angel?” he said softly.
I nodded. “I just can’t stop thinking about how I could have lost you.”
He stroked my hair soothingly. “I know, baby,” he whispered, “but we’re both okay. We’re here together, and I’ll hold you all night long.”
Cupping my cheek, he leaned down, pressing his lips to mine. The kiss started out slow and gentle, but quickly turned deep and hungry. I wanted nothing more than to lose myself in him.
Zan’s hand moved to the small of my back, arching me against him, and instantly desire rushed through me. His lips left mine, moving down to my throat, and I let my head fall back, giving him more room. I gripped at his shoulders as gasps of pleasure left my lips.
A low groan came from deep in his throat, but he started to slow down. His kisses instead of greedy tastes, became lingering caresses, feathering across my skin. He returned to my lips, and kissed me gently before pulling back a little and speaking softly.
“Let’s get you into some pajamas. Your parents have just started to accept us together, we don’t want to shock them.”
I couldn’t help smiling. “Okay, but what are you going to wear?”
He shrugged. “I’ll just strip down to my boxers.”
I did as he suggested, putting on the pajamas while Zan took off his shirt, shoes and pants. I wanted to make love to him to assure myself that he was okay and show him how much I loved him, but Zan was right, now was not the time. My parents had just barely started to accept him, and we didn’t want to do anything to mess it up.
I pulled down the blankets and Zan moved to the door. I thought he was turning off the light, but he reached for the doorknob.
“Where are you going?” I asked, confused and a little panicked that he might leave.
“Nowhere, angel,” he assured me, as he opened the door a few inches, leaving it ajar. “I’m just letting your parents know that we’re respecting their rules.”
He turned out the light and then joined me in bed, pulling the blankets up around us before wrapping me securely in his arms. I pressed myself as close to him as possible, resting my head against his chest. Instantly I felt better, and I closed my eyes as his warmth surrounded me.
“I love you,” I whispered.
His cheek rested on the top of my head and he whispered close to my ear. “I love you, angel.”
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