Brenda clicked the pen against her desk, her eyes glued to the disciplinary action report on the screen. She’d dreaded this since she’d arrived at work, seven hours ago. Suspension would normally have been the first step with any disciplinary action, but she couldn’t suspend a pharmacy tech who reported to work drunk. That was dangerous, and she didn’t allow dangerous people to work in her pharmacy.
“Terry’s here,” Maria said, peeking into the office.
“Thanks, can you send him back?
He slunk into the office, the dark circles under his eyes made all the more apparent by his too-pale skin. “You called?” he asked, but his voice was hollow. He already knew the answer to his question.
She slipped behind him and shut the door. It wouldn’t surprise Maria or any of the pharmacy techs she was letting him go, but adding public humiliation to his day wasn’t something she could stomach. The office was small, so he waited to sit down until after she took her seat behind the desk.
“We’re going to have to let you go,” she said without preamble.
He cursed and stared at his hands, not meeting her eyes. “Look, I know I had some troubles this weekend. Christine dumped me last week, and I just—”
“I’m sorry, Terry,” she said firmly. “But you came in here stinking of alcohol, when you bothered to come in at all.”
He looked up, tears building in the corners of his eyes. “I won’t lie to you. I screwed up. Royally. But it won’t happen again.”
Brenda frowned. The man had messed up. But he was young, just old enough to buy the alcohol he’d used to drown his sorrows. And he loved his long-time girlfriend. Enough, apparently, to lose his job mourning the relationship.
“I have to let you go,” she said finally. “I can’t risk you’ll come in here drunk after the next fight.”
The haggard breath he took made her chest hurt, but she couldn’t give in, not on something this important. As tears started rolling down his face, she said, “If you get into an alcohol program, prove to me you’re sticking with it, we’ll see how things are going in a few months. Maybe try again, under a probationary period until I’m comfortable.”
“Oh thank you, Brenda!” he said, choking out the words between sobs.
“I said maybe, and remember, this is going to require some serious work on your part.”
He nodded and promised he’d check out what the hospital offered that very day.
Brenda waited for him to pull himself together before escorting him out. She returned to her office and rubbed her eyes. Had she made a mistake? Should she have given him that small way for him to redeem himself, or would it have been better to make it a clean break?
She sighed and turned back to her computer, but the sound of a message arriving on her phone stopped her. The chirp was distinctive, and specific to a very special kind of message. Hitting shutdown on the computer, she didn’t glance at the cell’s screen. Instead she called out to Maria, “I have to leave early today, family emergency.” Only an hour remained until six, when she was scheduled to leave anyway, but she still felt a twinge of guilt.
“Is everything okay?” Maria asked when Brenda emerged from the office.
“It’s fine. My brother’s in town so just a little drama.” The lie made her mouth dry and her stomach flip-flop, but she could hardly tell her the truth.
Maria’s posture relaxed and she nodded. “Family drama, fun.”
“You have no idea.”
Brenda tugged on the spandex in a vain attempt to get the fabric to cover just a bit more of her cl**vage. Damn it, she’d definitely shrunk the undershirt. She knew it was tight as she raced out the door, but she hadn’t realized the severity of the shrinkage.
And why had she bothered to rush? Not like anyone would have missed her if she hadn’t shown. Suppressing a sigh she knew would prompt concern from her companion, Char, she glanced around the room, taking in the motley group.
“Motley” probably wouldn’t be the word most people would use to describe the gathering of superheroes. Granted, their disguises were all the more bright and noticeable with so many of them in one place—thirty or so, Brenda figured—but most still would have described the gathering with a much kinder word. Striking or spectacular, perhaps, especially when compared to the stark room they stood in. Gray carpet washed out by white walls. Folding chairs lined one side of the room, propped against the wall. Next to the other wall, a ten-foot by ten-foot section of the floor was elevated six inches higher than the rest of the space. The darker gray carpet that lined its surface kept it from being quite the tripping hazard it might have been otherwise. In the center of the dais a metal podium stood empty.
“You okay?” Char asked, not fooled by Brenda’s blank expression.
“I’m fine. Just feeling a bit squished. I left my top in the dryer a little too long.”
She grinned down at Brenda’s cl**vage. “Well, luckily, just the undershirt is spandex. Can you imagine if you were wearing Violet’s outfit?”
Brenda snorted and glanced at the woman. She covered her body, wrist to knee, in purple spandex already stretched so tight it left not a single one of her curves or lumps a mystery. Black leather gloves and boots completed her outfit, along with a mask that hid her hair and half of her face. Brenda had never seen the older woman without her mask, but with the unmarred way the spandex sat against her scalp and neck she imagined Violet had short hair.
Even if she had been a teenager instead of the forty-something Brenda guessed she must be, that much spandex wouldn’t have been appealing. Thank goodness most heroes chose modern and attractive outfits. Of course there was a handful who, like Violet, stuck with tradition.
“What do you think this is about?” Char asked, keeping her voice low. She wore spandex today, too, though the material was much more flattering on her. Her small red dress with matching boots, gloves, and top hat complimented her athletic curves.
Brenda shrugged. Whatever it was, she was unlikely to be involved in any meaningful way, but she could understand the curiosity. Her friend had a useful power, albeit one that made her personal life a living hell. She reduced everything she touched with her fingers or toes for more than a few seconds to ash, burning it from the inside out. Sadly, her touch worked without conscious effort, and she couldn’t turn it off. Brenda found herself jealous of her superhero brethren often enough, but never of Char. That wasn’t to say the stunning superhero didn’t date, she just had to keep her gloves and socks on at all times. But she’d never had a long-term relationship, not since Brenda had known her anyway, maybe because her power was difficult to explain to a normal person without compromising her secret identity—something most superheroes were loathe to do until a relationship was firmly established.
“I heard Justice is coming to this meeting.” Char tossed her long, auburn hair behind her shoulder and grinned.
Cheeks burning, Brenda muttered, “Oh yeah?”
“Yep.” Char smirked. “Good thing you shrunk that spandex, huh?”
She frowned and then giggled at her friend’s waggling eyebrows. “Yeah, like he’s going to start noticing me all of a sudden.”
Justice was, much to Brenda’s annoyance, one of the few males who didn’t appreciate her and her costumes. She might be a second-rate superhero, but she filled her carefully chosen outfits quite nicely.
Her second-class status and Char’s generally sarcastic attitude placed them firmly outside of the cliques formed by the others surrounding them. In rare moments of honesty, she could admit her power—or lack thereof—had little to do with her outcast status. Like Char, she was in the out group because that’s where she felt comfortable.
As if summoned by their discussion, Justice strode into the room. He also filled his outfit to Brenda’s satisfaction. Like most of the male superheroes, he chose to wear leather and other less formfitting materials. Black was his color of choice, with deep red accents to give him a badass appearance, though not a particularly stylish one.
He towered over his brethren like a king over his subjects. Handsome and broad in the shoulder, he looked like a superhero should. She took an involuntary step forward and then stopped in her tracks, face warming. It’s his reputation, Brenda told herself. That was what made him appear so strong, what made her reaction to him so overwhelming.
He walked up to the wrought iron podium and held up a hand to silence the room. Her pulse quickened and for a moment, she forgot to breathe. His face was partially covered with a mask tied over his eyes, but it did nothing to hide his chiseled features. He had a square jaw and just a touch of stubble that ran down his cheeks and onto his neck. Probably only a day of growth, but with his dark hair it was already noticeable. She imagined for a brief moment what the rough stubble of his beard, followed by the softness of his full lips would feel like, gliding down the tender skin of her neck.
Brenda swallowed and forced herself to breathe. His had the face of a hero, one who certainly wasn’t interested in a second-tier champion such as herself, no matter how well she filled out her uniform.
Tension hung in the air, but no one spoke while they waited for Justice to break the silence. His gaze moved across the group, and as his eyes raked across her, it was as if she could feel his hands caressing her body. Her ni**les tightened beneath her uniform, and she glanced away from him. He was out of her league. She needed to remember that.
Justice surveyed the room, taking in the group of heroes before him with a calculating eye. Some were more useful than others, but most weren’t valuable in a plethora of situations. Few circumstances arose where his powers didn’t come in handy. His gaze paused on Silencer—Brenda—for a brief moment, and he struggled to pull his eyes to the next hero before lingering long enough that she might notice.
She wore one of her skimpier outfits, definitely not one made for working. Spandex clung to her br**sts, and the material threatened to push them right out of the laced-up silver bustier she wore over it. A short silver skirt clung to her ass and revealed long, toned legs. Elbow-length silver gloves and tall, silver, high-heeled boots—also lace-up—accessorized the outfit, which was completed with a silver mask that covered only her eyes and a cape that draped to the small of her back. The top was sleeveless, and the cape covered half of her neck and hung over her collarbone. While most superheroes generally stuck with one uniform, or a series of similar ones, Silencer believed in no such consistency.