Chapter Sixteen | Hey, Good Lookin'

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The room had been set for a romantic dinner. Flickering candelabras anointed the table amid platters, bowls, and saucers. There was no rhyme or reason to the spread initially but Cash realized quickly that the dishes were all some of her favorites. An enormous bowl of wild buffalo broth pho bedecked with crispy sprouts, curling pale noodles, and slices of hot pepper. A platter of deviled eggs generously sprinkled with green paprika. Cornbread fresh and steaming from the oven. Cash's eyes wandered hungrily over these dishes and more as Boss firmly sat her down at the head of the table.

"This is silly," Cash said as Boss poured a gleaming blonde ale into a pint glass and set it in front of her plate.

"Oh definitely," Boss beamed. "But it's a special occasion."

"What's so special about it?" Cash asked simply as she dipped a wide white spoon into the bowl of Pho she had ladled for herself.

Boss slathered a generous thumb of butter over a thick slice of cornbread. "I wanted to show you how much everything-how much-" Boss paused and set down the butter knife. "I couldn't have done any of this without you Cash. I'd be sitting here, an anxious wreck, about to go lose everything I've built to get my son back."

Cash swallowed thickly. "Nah. You woulda figured something out. You never took anything lying down."

Boss's face softened. "I'm glad you have such faith in me."

"Never had a reason not to," Cash replied softly.

Boss looked up at her from beneath her eyelashes. "I wish we hadn't lost so much time, Cash."

Cash paused in her meal as her heart skipped a beat. After a long pause, she replied. "No sense mournin' what you can't change."

Boss gave a rueful laugh. "Always the pragmatist..." She hesitated. "You want to tell me about Mayall, yet?" She asked hesitantly over the clinking of their silverware.

"Not even gonna let me move on to dessert first?" Asked Cash with a muted grin.

"I've wondered for over six cycles now." Boss's voice grew tender. "I can wait longer if you need me to."

Cash sighed and shook her head. "No...No you deserve that much."

Boss held her in a tender gaze and set down her utensils, draping her arms delicately over one another and waiting for Cash to begin.

"We were contracted to go in for the Mayalesse government." Cash fixated her eyes on a speck of chive that sat alone on the table cloth. "There were stirrings of conflict between the guilds and they wanted some outside muscle to mediate."

Cash could see Boss nodding her understanding from the corner of her eye.

"Things went south real quick. Turns out that the guilds had all hired their own muscle as well. We went to a negotiation expecting maybe some squabbling and an eventual contract but instead got caught in the crossfire of what would grow into civil war."

Cash twisted the napkin in her lap tightly between her fists.

"My whole crew. Dead in an instant. I was taken as a prisoner of war and used as a pawn. Didn't matter in the end, the Mayalesse government didn't give a shit about me so I rotted away in a guild prison camp for the better part of a year."

Boss sucked in a quick breath and Cash glanced up. The woman was gazing at her with a wounded expression and Cash couldn't help the emotions that choked up her throat.

"I busted out." She continued after finding her voice again. "There was a prison riot and I managed to make it out alive, somehow. I didn't have anything but the disgusting clothing on my back. No way to make it home."

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