THE PALE SERIES - Sparks and pigs fly when a wise-cracking waitress meets a reclusive billionaire.
Trixie is a wise-cracking waitress trying to work her way through college when a late-night storm blows in a stranger. He's not like the usual customers with his pale skin and dark clothes. Her kindness to him is rewarded with an invitation to his house in the country, and she finds herself in a sticky relationship when he returns her kindness with more than just a thank-you.
It all started with ketchup. I wasn't scheduled to work that night at the diner, but one of my coworkers slipped on a packet of ketchup and sprained her butt. That's why I was called in to fill her position that dark and stormy night when he showed up.
It was the usual chaos around the diner, a dirty little place off the intersection of Going and Nowhere, which, like this book, was the story of my life. I'd worked at the small, cramped, old-fashioned rectangular building for the last seven years and saw myself coming near the end of my college years without any way to brake and put the car of life in reverse. I was plump, but not fat, witty, but not mean, blond haired, but not dumb, and made more friends than enemies with whom I met. It was a comfortable life, other than the stress of college and work, but not one with much prospect of becoming a millionaire and living a life of retirement at age forty. If I kept up this pace I could retire at four hundred and spend the rest of my days on life-support.
One of my friends, Sheila, was helping me run the diner that night. The rush hour of regulars was over, the hour was late, and our muscles were tired from scampering from table to table all night taking orders. Sheila, a skinny young girl of twenty with as much ambition as a sloth, plopped herself down in a chair beside the door to the kitchen. She glanced outside and shook her head. "What a night," she sighed.
She wasn't kidding. A storm raged outside the windows the likes of which I'd seen once or twice before. I'd just washed the outside of the windows yesterday, so that ensured that the wind blew leaves and rain against all of them. The wind blew so hard people had trouble staying on their feet, and I swear I even saw a cow fly by, which was strange considering we were in the middle of the city.
"Huh? What?" That was my name, and Sheila was calling it.
"I said do you think the power will go out? We don't have any way to keep the burger patties frozen if the fridge dies," she pointed out.
I shrugged. "Then we'll have to take one for the team and eat them all ourselves," I told her.
She snorted. "As if. I'd be so bloated I couldn't fit through the door."
I shuddered; being stuck at work all night wasn't my idea of fun. Maybe somebody else's idea, but I wouldn't have been a part of that planning process. "If the power does go out just don't open the doors."
"Or hope it goes out after we leave," she added. "How much longer do we have?"
I glanced at my watch, and around the diner. Two diners were finishing up their meals. "We have an hour left and then it's rough sailing through the storm." I walked around the counter to one of the booths and glanced out the window. The streets were running with water. "Looks like some of the city's fine sanitary infrastructure isn't working right," I told Sheila.
"The whats-it?" she asked me.
"The sewer drains are clogged," I rephrased. "At the rate the rain's coming down we might need to flip one of these tables over and use it as a boat to get home." I glanced over to our two remaining customers. "Sirs, you might want to get a move on or you'll have trouble getting through the streets." The two men were nice enough to finish their meals, pay and get out, leaving Sheila and me alone with just the cook in the back. He was as friendly as a bear awoken in mid-hibernation, so we didn't include him in our conversations.
After I showed the last man out and made sure the door shut behind him, I glanced at my watch. Half an hour left. Outside the storm raged like a toddler hell-bent on destroying a model city, and the night was so dark I couldn't see more than a yard past the doors. The decrepit streetlights were broken, and the rain came down in sheets of thick silk. The owner of the diner was very strict about closing and opening on time, but the weather was so bad made me so nervous that my hand hovered over the lock.
I didn't even see the man until his face was pressed against glass. My loud, vibrating scream registered on the Richter scale, and I stumbled back onto the floor when the door swung open. Sheila, my brave and bold friend, ducked down beneath the counter and the cook stuck his head out of the kitchen.
The man who stepped inside was almost six feet tall with a fedora hat on his head and a heavy trench coat over his body. On the floor I could even see his shoes; simple and black with pointy tips. What really scared me was his skin; it was as pale as paper, the white printer kind, not that colorful construction kind that's fun to cut up. He had a pair of bright blue eyes that stood out against the white color like Christmas lights on a snowman. This guy didn't look jolly enough to be Frosty, not with those pursed lips, though he was dripping on the floor I'd just cleaned an hour ago out of sheer boredom.
I started back when he bent down and offered his hand to me; it was covered in a thick black glove. "I'm sorry to have startled you. Are you all right?" he asked me in a deep, firm voice. It was the kind that would make a girl swoon to the floor if I hadn't already been down there.
I took his hand and was surprised how warm it felt through the glove. He pulled me up with more strength than I'd give a man who looked like he had one foot in the grave, or a serious accident with flour. "I'm fine, just this stupid weather," I replied as I brushed myself off. "But what can I do for you?" At this point I normally let the customers seat themselves, but he wasn't a normal customer. Hell, he didn't look like a normal person, not with those bright eyes staring unblinkingly at me. Gave me the willies, creeps, heebiejeebies, and made me a touch nervous. I also wanted to close up early, now more than ever with Dracula standing there. I wouldn't have minded a bit of ravishing because he wasn't bad looking without the pale skin, but the bloodsucking was a bit of a drain on a relationship.
"Coffee, your strongest," he requested. He shuffled over to the counter and took a seat in the very center. That was my work area for the evening, so I sighed and went around the counter to find Sheila still cowering beneath there.
I glared at her and gestured for her to get up, but she shook her head. I glanced up and caught the customer staring at me funny, probably because I'd been mouthing words of warning at my cowering coworker. I plastered a wide, terrifying grin on my face and fetched a cup of our drink. At this late in the evening it wasn't so much coffee as it was sludge filled with coffee grounds. It was guaranteed to keep the drinker awake for five days, or bring them back from the dead. The guy didn't look like he needed a remedy for the second, so I figured he wanted to be up during the day.
I filled the cup with the oozing mess and plopped it down in front of him; the surface jiggled. The damn thing had attained sentience. "Careful, it's, well, alive," I warned him.
The stranger was mesmerized by the jiggling. "Is it safe to drink?" he asked me.
"Yeah, but you'd better hurry and drink it before it demands citizenship," I advised. At that moment I felt a tug on my leg; Sheila was wanting my attention. "Excuse me for a moment, I think the rats want to talk to me about their union dues." I had enough time to see his bewildered expression before I slipped beneath the counter. I dropped my voice to a low, hissing whisper so he couldn't overhear. "What are you doing? Get up!"
Sheila shook her head, and her eyes were wide and as round as diner plates. "Not with that creepy guy! Did you get a look at his face through the door?" she squeaked.
"I'm pretty sure I got a good look at him from five inches away," I replied. "Now get up and show what kind of a man you can be."
"But I'm not a man, and I just want him to leave!"
"Then it's time you traded in your breasts for some balls, and stood up," I hissed back at her.
"Is there a problem?" the stranger spoke up.
We both froze; we hadn't been quiet enough to escape his sharp ears. I grabbed Sheila's shoulders and hauled her with me as I stood. We both plastered smiles on our faces, and startled the man. "Sorry about that, my coworker here lost a power saw and needed help finding it."
"A...power saw?" the man repeated.
"For cutting our way home through this storm," I told him. "We get off in half an hour and want to be prepared for anything."
The man looked concerned. "Am I keeping you from leaving? I can leave, if you want." He got as far as one leg off the stool before I sighed and shook my head.
"No, it's all right." Sheila's clinging hands on my arm begged to differ. "We don't mind staying open for a few more minutes while you finish your, um, sentient life." I couldn't bring myself to belittle the coffee by calling it a drink; that would hurt its feelings.
We all jumped when a door slammed at the back of the diner.
"What was that?" the stranger asked.
I rolled my eyes. "Apparently the cook minded staying and just went home for the night. I hope you didn't want a meal with your drink because the most we can do is scrambled eggs, and I'm not so sure about the scrambled part," I warned him.
"No, this coffee will do." He was being kind; the sludge blinked at him. I worried it thought he was its mother. "But are you sure you don't want me to leave?"
"No, it's fine." There was that tugging on my arm again; I'd have to have that nervous twitch looked at after he left. "You must have been pretty desperate to come in here."
"To be honest I'm not too familiar with this part of town and your lights looked the friendliest, so I came inside," he told us. "A sort of sailor adrift who catches sight of land and swims to it."
"I hope you can still swim because if this storm gets any worse we're all going to be needing to," I quipped. The rain still beat on the windows and an old farmhouse flew by.
The stranger took his mug and downed the rest of the contents; I hoped I hadn't just poisoned him. "I really appreciate your kindness. Not many would serve me on this sort of night," he mused with a sad smile.
I shrugged. "I'd keep serving at this place even if the world was coming to an end. Nobody should have to face the Rapture on an empty stomach."
He chuckled, and those eyes twinkled. "I'd like to do something nice for you as a token of my appreciation." He pulled out a card from an inner coat pocket and slid it over to me. I glanced down, and saw an address and the letter B in a circle printed on the front. "That's where I live."
My mind proceeded to conjure up images of bad porn films; not that I'd seen any, of course. "I don't really make house calls, so you'll have to pour your own coffee," I told him. I pushed the card toward him, and he pushed it back.
"This isn't anything like that," he assured me. "I'd like to interview you for a job I have in mind, and would prefer a more private surrounding."
I leaned over the counter and stared him straight in the eyes. "This isn't a sex job, is it?"
He grinned. "Quite the opposite, but are you looking for such work?"
I straightened and opened my arms to show my flabby body. "There's plenty of folds to put the dollar bills, but I don't think the pole could support me."
He chuckled; this guy was easy to please. "I can see what you mean, but my offer still stands. Come to my house for the interview at eight o'clock tomorrow evening and we'll see what we can work out." That worked for me; I didn't have any college classes that late. He tossed down a twenty dollar bill for a fifty cent cup of coffee and slid off the stool.
The fellow wasn't giving me much time to think about this offer, and he'd given me even less information to decide what to do. "Wait, I don't even know your name!" I protested as he walked toward the door.
He paused and glanced over his shoulder with a dazzlingly pale smile on his face. "It's John Benson," he replied.
"And don't you want to know mine?"
He shook his head. "I don't need to know it. I'll just call you my little Angel."
I wasn't modest enough to dispute the angel tag, but the little was not quite accurate. He was out the door and gone before I could say anything else.
Sheila came up to me with her hand raised and a finger pointed at the door. "H-h-he's-"
"-gone, I know," I finished for her.
She whipped her head to me and frowned. "Didn't you hear his name?" she snapped at me.
"My memory hasn't slowed up these long minutes with him," I countered.
I noticed Sheila's attitude had changed from a cowering coward to a giddy schoolgirl. "Then don't you know who he is?" she whispered.
"The only things I need to know is that he's a guy offering me a job, and I don't have to strip to do it."
"He's the John Benson, of Benson Investments," Sheila explained to me.
I stared at her blankly. "He's who of what?"
Sheila rolled her eyes. "It's only one of the largest investing companies in the country, and he's the head of it!"
I raised an eyebrow. "I'm pretty sure I would have heard about a business with an albino at the head of it. News like that's too good for the papers to ignore."
"It's because he doesn't let anyone see him. He works from home and rarely travels."
"Then how do you know it's him? John Benson isn't exactly a rare name."
She snatched the card from my hand and pointed at the B. "See? That's his company's logo."
I snatched the card back and stuffed the card into the front of my blouse. The damn thing stuck out and I abandoned my attempt to look cool by shoving it into my pocket. "So how come you know so much about him?" I asked her. She was the type of girl who only looked at a man's business to assess his bank account.
"Because he's young, eligible, and I knew he lived somewhere around the city," she told me. "So are you going to go?"
I shrugged. "Maybe, maybe not. I don't work tomorrow, so I may as well see what he's offering."
She pressed against me and clasped her hands together. "Can I go with you? Pretty please?"
"You work tomorrow," I reminded her.
"Yeah, but if he really likes me I may never have to work again," she countered.
"How about you catch your own wealthy businessman and leave him to me? Besides, you're scared of him, remember? Pale skin and creepy blue eyes?"
We jumped when something hard knocked against the window and reminded us of the end of the world outside. That scared the gold-digger out of Sheila, and she nervously glanced at the windows and nodded. "Yeah, on second thought he's all yours. I'll wait for the next one."