“What an—” Karen began.
“Asshole,” Tony finished. “Yeah, he definitely was.”
“You should go after the girl,” Karen said as she turned to the computer. “Mary.”
“What? What are you talking about?” Tony stared at her.
“You liked her. That guy’s a jerk, and I figure he’s likely to get physical when he’s angry. You should go get her.”
“Right. First off, I don’t know if I like her.” He did but he wasn’t admitting it to Karen. “Second, I’m not sure she’d be thrilled for a stranger to chase her down. I know you want me to get a girlfriend, Kris, but even I know this isn’t the way to go about it.” He turned to go back to his sketchbook, but paused. Maybe Karen had a point; the guy had been pretty angry.
“You do like her, I saw it, but you’re right.” Karen pondered the situation, twisting a lock of light blond hair around her finger. “I’ll go.”
“What?” Tony jerked around. “No, you’re fucking not. Don’t be ridiculous.”
They were interrupted when Jackson Park, the third tattoo artist at Chandler Designs, came out front. His client, a man who’d come for some work on his arm, shook hands with Jackson, nodded at the others, and left.
“Who’s being ridiculous?” asked Jackson.
“Karen,” Tony said.
“I am not,” she said, and brought Jackson up to speed on what had happened. “I didn’t like that guy, and you didn’t either, Tony, you know it.”
“I’m not denying that.” He was starting to feel uneasy. Maybe she was right. Dean had seemed to have a temper, and even after just those few minutes, it was easy to imagine him getting physical with Mary. Tony didn’t like to think about that. Damn it, he should go after her.
“But you’re right that you can’t go after her, and Jackson can’t either. You’ll both probably scare her. So that leaves me.” Karen nodded. “I’ll be back.”
“Look, I’ll go with you,” Tony said. “I don’t want that guy getting physical, and if you’re there maybe I won’t scare her too much.”
“Tony, that guy does not scare me.” Karen gave him an arch look.
“I know. I’m worried what you’ll do to him.”
“It might—” Karen started, but the door chimed and to everyone’s surprise, Mary ran inside.
“I’m sorry,” she said, a little breathless. “I was here a few minutes ago. Do you have a back room or something? Please. I need to hide.” She took a few breaths and darted a look behind her. “Shit,” she whispered with a pleading look at Karen. “He’s coming.”
“Here, sweetie. Quick.” Karen took Mary’s arm and led her to their breakroom.
Tony watched them go, then stood watching the door, glad they didn’t have any customers at the moment. Jackson came and leaned on the counter.
“Should I call the cops?” Jackson asked.
“No, not yet. There’s nothing to call about.” Tony felt a little jolt of adrenaline as he waited for the confrontation. On one level, he didn’t want to come to blows with a stranger. On another, he couldn’t say he’d mind punching this particular guy. He decided not to think about why he felt so protective of a woman he hadn’t even officially met.
Dean punched the door open and stalked up to the counter. “Where the hell is she?”
“Can I help you?” Tony asked, keeping his voice bland. Jackson stifled a grin.
“Cut the crap,” said Dean. “Where is she?”
“My sister is on break,” said Tony.
“My sister’s out of town,” added Jackson, “in case you meant her.”
“You think you’re funny,” Dean sneered. “Now, last time, where the fuck is she? Where is my girlfriend?”
“Ex-girlfriend, as I recall,” said Tony.
“That’s none of your goddamned business,” Dean said, his voice rising.
“You made it my business when you threw a tantrum in my store.”
“Fuck you. I know Mary came in here and she is coming home with me. So tell me where she is, dickhead.”
“Nice,” said Jackson. “That’ll really work on him. Keep going.”
“You stay out of it. It’s none of your business,” Dean shot back.
“If you don’t want people in your business, then don’t conduct it in public,” said Jackson. “I mean, that’s just common sense.”
“You a cop?” asked Tony. “Got a warrant?”
Dean glared at him.
“Yeah, I didn’t think so.” Tony leaned into the other man’s space and Dean jerked back as he had with Karen. “As I recall, she broke up with you, so she’s not your girlfriend. Get the fuck out of my store, and don’t come back. And before you think about going on some macho rampage, be advised we have security cameras recording everything.”
“Plus I’m a witness,” Jackson said. “So I’m thinking you’d better leave.” He turned to Tony. “I think I’ll call the cops after all. Just to check in, you know.”
“Sure, say hi for me,” said Tony, his eyes never leaving Dean.
“You are in so much fucking trouble,” Dean said. “This is not over and you will be sorry.”
“Get out,” Tony said.
Dean glared and spun around, yanking the door open and muttering to himself as he stomped away.
“Well, that was fun,” said Jackson. “I’m going to get some coffee. Want anything?”
“Okay.” Jackson nodded and left.
I, thought Tony, am going to find out what the hell is going on.
Mary sat in the breakroom, fidgeting with the water bottle the other woman had given her. God, how had she let all this happen, she thought as she tried to get a grip on herself.
“Hey, sweetie. I’m Karen. You’re Mary, right?” Karen sat down and smiled. Her height—she had to be close to six feet and being slim, seemed taller—along with her long, light blue hair, tattoos and black t-shirt and jeans should have made her intimidating, but her demeanor was the opposite. Mary liked her.
“Yeah. Mary Stone.” She twisted the cap off the bottle, then back on. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—I don’t—oh, crap.” Mary put the bottle down and covered her face with her hands. Stop it, she told herself. Get it together. It’s your mess, you have to clean it up.
“It’s all right, Mary.” Karen patted her shoulder. “It’s fine. I’m kind of worried about you, though. Here.” She handed Mary an ice pack. “Put this on your face. You don’t have to tell me, but what’s going on? Maybe we can help.”
“I appreciate the offer,” said Mary, “but I don’t think you can. It’s my fault. I’ve been an idiot.” What was she going to do? She closed her eyes and placed the cold pack against her cheek, where Dean had slapped her before she’d managed to get away from him.