Kept By the Loan Shark by Roxie Rivera

Chapter One





“You sure you’re too busy to go out tonight?”

I looked up from the papers I was grading to see Taylor standing in the doorway of the office. Her mischievous smile told me she had quite a night planned. “Yep. Hagen is back in town and picking me up.”

“Boring,” Taylor decreed. “Come out with us instead.”

“Us?”

“Kaya and Maddie from the engineering department, June from chemistry, Minh from neuro, Annabelle and LeeAnn from math and, obviously, me—your best friend in the whole world,” she added dramatically. “It’s a FRIENDS themed pub crawl. You love FRIENDS,” she insisted. “Come out with us!”

“I can barely handle a glass of rosé without getting lightheaded. A pub crawl will kill me!”

“You could be our designated driver?” she suggested hopefully.

“Pass.” I gave her a thumbs-down at the thought of herding half a dozen drunk friends around downtown Houston.

“Boo!” She stuck out her tongue. “Next time?”

I laughed. “Hard pass.”

Taylor rolled her eyes. “Girl, you have got to live a little!” Before I could answer, she held up her hand and said, “Winning the TA SCRABBLE tournament doesn’t count!”

“Says who?”

“Says everyone who knows how to have fun.”

“Hagen thinks I’m fun,” I protested.

Her smile turned sly. “Oh, I’m sure he does.”

I blushed. “I didn’t mean it that way.”

Amused, she said, “No, I’m sure you didn’t. You’re way too sweet to throw your wild sex life with that beast of a man in my face.”

“It’s not wild,” I grumbled, embarrassed. “It’s normal. Perfectly normal.”

“Uh-huh,” she said, unconvinced. “Well, if you change your mind about tonight, call me.”

Giving her my full attention so she would know I was serious, I urged, “Be careful, okay? Almost all of the missing girls disappeared after bar hopping.”

I expected Taylor to roll her eyes and say something sarcastic, but she actually seemed worried. “That sophomore who went missing three weeks ago?”

“McKenna?”

She nodded. “I saw her at the bar. Danny and I were having a drink, and he noticed her and thought she was cute. I told him to go talk to her, but he was too shy and thought she was too young. It’s wild to think we were some of the last people to see her.”

“Did you talk to the police?”

“Yeah. We didn’t have any details that could help them, but we were able to confirm where she was and when.”

Over the last three years, seven young women had gone missing, all of them fellow students. Most were freshman or sophomores, but there had been two grad students among them. All of them had been seen at bars around campus before disappearing. There hadn’t been much done to find them, and it was a growing point of contention between university student groups and the police.

“We’ll be safe,” Taylor promised, knowing full well that I would worry about her. “I’ll text you when I get home, okay?”

“Okay, and if you do need a DD, call me.”

“I will.” She pushed off the door frame and turned to leave. She hesitated and glanced back at me. With a stage whisper, she announced, “Here comes Creeper Kyle.”

I glared and hissed, “Don’t call him that. He’s a nice guy.”

“That’s what they said about Ted Bundy,” she snarked and left.

Hoping Kyle hadn’t heard her, I went back to grading. He wasn’t a creep. His mannerisms were a bit odd, and he didn’t always recognize when he had overstayed his welcome, but he had always been nice to me and a good friend. He even helped me find the apartment where I had lived for the last two years.

“Hey, Cassie!”

“Hey, Kyle.” I glanced up from the paper I was grading. “You headed home?”

“Not yet. I have a shift scheduled at the counseling center. What about you?”

“I have a few more of these to grade before I head out.”

“Any signs of the next Hawking in that stack?”

I made a face. “I mean, it’s only the fourth week of class so…”

“That bad?”

“Yeah.”

“Did my notes help with your math lecture?”