Johnny Ray leered at her. "Well...
look who the dogs dragged back. I know you, red. You're the little gal
who left me with the sore head and a whole lot of unfinished business."
He stepped close and jerked her chin up with his beefy fingers.
Clay laid a hand across Big John's forearm. "See here, mister."
The bear shook him off like a pesky black fly. "And now, here you are.
Right back where we last met. We can pick up where we left off, but
maybe we'll have a drink and a dance first."
Johnny Ray gripped her arm and twisted her toward the door.
"No!" She yanked free and fell against Clay, clutching him.
Clay backed up looking dumbfounded, with Jesi clinging to his coat front.
"Oh. I see. You're busy now." He threw Clay a look. "Better mind
yourself, mister. Don't turn your head. She's a thieving, mean little
She shook her head and glanced at Clay. He scowled and removed her hand from his coat. "Jesi?"
"Jesi?" Another voice came from the street.
Jesi twisted her head. Paul hoofed it around a pair of mud holes as he
crossed the road. She turned back to Clay. His face had changed. His jaw
was now set, and his brow dipped. His face had taken on the tell-tale
shade of red it always seemed to turn when he was angry.
"What've you become?" he asked, his voice tight.
Big John burst out laughing. "What'd you think she was, mister? I can
tell you what." He jerked his head toward Maisey's dark interior. "So
can anyone in this fine establishment."
She shook her head.
Tears blurred her vision. Gravy's piano playing clinked discordant tones
in the background. "Jesi?" Paul's voice, even but heavy with worry she
recognized, rang out as he leapt onto the boardwalk. She turned to him,
but didn't dare meet his gaze. She wiped the back of her hand across her
Big John kept laughing. Clay just stared at her, his
countenance growing harder by the second. His eyes took on the shade of
thunderclouds over Lake Superior.
"Is this how you've been living in Hurley?" His look scathed her. "Yet you were ready to try and fool me again."
She had no breath, no courage to deny it. Her heart had momentarily
soared to the peaks, and then crashed down in a hideous mess.
His face contorted. "You're still nothing but a common trollop."
Paul's fist shot out without warning, catching Clay square in the jaw. He reeled backward off the boardwalk into the mud.
"Who the blazes are you?" John thundered, reaching for Paul's shirt.
Jesi covered her mouth and bit her palm.
Paul shoved a fist in his gut, but the big man merely cringed and pushed Paul back. "What's your stake in all this?"
Paul found his footing. He glanced briefly at Clay, who'd gotten up and stood brushing mud off his suit.
"I'll tell you." Paul took a run at Big John, crashing into his
shoulder so that the brute fell hard against the side of the building.
"She's my wife."
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