Lucky the Hard Way: A Lucky O’Toole Novel
Too many questions, no easy answers, and no one to shoot—not exactly a great Christmas.
Okay, I didn’t really have a gun. Not on Christmas. To be honest, I’m not exactly a point-and-shoot kind of gal anyway. Probably a good thing, since the woman standing in front of me was campaigning hard for a spot in the crosshairs. This is where that concealed carry permit, had I had one, would’ve gotten us both into trouble.
But there was a difference between wanting to shoot someone and wanting to see that person dead. One a euphemism, one a finality—so don’t take me too seriously.
It was Christmas after all and I still had a drop or two of the Milk of Human Kindness left.
Miss Minnie, the aforementioned woman standing in front of me, was the proprietress of Miss Minnie’s Magic Massage and one of the most difficult people I know, which was saying a lot. Dealing with difficult people all day, every day was my reality, but on a family holiday? Well, that just seemed wrong.
In a questionable neighborhood on the opposite side Interstate 15, Miss Minnie’s was light-years away from my hood, the glamour and glitz of the Las Vegas Strip.
As with most things in Vegas, Miss Minnie’s hid reality behind a façade. I was raised in a whorehouse—I could smell them a mile away. The cloying scent of sex masked by ammonia and room deodorizers—a noxious combination that still turned my stomach. Minnie’s girls were independent contractors—another clue. Alone with her client behind closed doors, each girl could negotiate her own deal. Business dealings repeated multiple times in parking lots of the strip clubs and in hotel rooms all over town. Some girls chose the profession. They weren’t the ones I worried about. But that’s not why I was here. Not tonight.
Tonight I needed help.
The Miss Minnies of the world were parasites capitalizing on human frailty. Of course, I ran a casino so who was I to judge? I tabled that bit of unnerving parallelism and stared down Miss Minnie, willing her to break.
A tiny woman with a bite worse than her bark, Minnie returned my glare despite my ten-inch and fifty-pound advantage.
“Minnie, you know why I’m here. I need your help.” I cringed as I said it—the last person on the planet I wanted to owe was Minnie—a high-ranking priestess in the cult of Paybacks are Always Hell.
My name is Lucky O’Toole and as the Vice President of Customer Relations for the Babylon, Vegas’s most over-the-top strip casino/resort, I was slumming, but for a good cause—at least that’s what I kept telling myself, but I wasn’t a easy sell. As Christmas night wound toward an end, I wasn’t at all pleased to have been lured out of my bit of the jungle, especially with a warm bed and a hot French chef waiting for me.
“You bring man who killed my Sam, and I help you.” A walking fashion faux pas, tonight Miss Minnie channeled her Geisha Gone Wild look—with my apologies to Geisha’s everywhere. A human hotdog, she had stuffed herself into a silk sheath that captured her Himalayan breasts several inches shy of respectability, then tapered to a tight opening at her ankles. The seams still held defying the laws of physics. With her stride silk-limited to about six inches and teetering on platform shoes, Miss Minnie had no choice but to hold her ground, which she did with tilted chin and fists planted on either hip. A white face, the powder cracking and flaking, and a jet-black wig poofed and lacquered completed the look. Her red bow-tie mouth knotted tight and her dark eyes throwing daggers, she met me stare for stare as anger rolled off her in waves.
Wasn’t anger outlawed on Christmas?
Before I slipped out onto that slippery slope and outlawed gambling, drinking and other excesses, thereby turning Nevada into Utah, I reined myself in. What was the matter with me tonight? Going all introspective and sanctimonious wasn’t like me at all.
As I worked to hold onto my notoriously thin patience and regain my thick shield of self-delusion, I stared at Minnie. The thought that all of her customers must be completed shellacked struck me, and I fought the urge to giggle. Panic does weird things to me, what can I say? One look at Minnie and any self-respecting male would turn and run. There was a warning in that thought somewhere, but I chose to ignore it.
“Irv Gittings shot Sam,” I said, telling her what she already knew. “You know I’d gladly risk twenty-to-life to shoot Mr. Gittings, but I have a minor problem—I need to find him first. That’s where you come in.”
“Me?” Miss Minnie’s voice rose on a wave of forced incredulity. “What I know?”
How I hated games. From the looks of it, Minnie fancied herself a master, but I doubted she could even stay in the game with my mother. And Mona had taught me well. I so had this. Minnie should know that—it wasn’t like this was the first time we’d done the verbal thrust and parry.
Despite knowing her well, Minnie didn’t scare me… much. I seemed to have the same effect on her. Familiarity breeding contempt and all of that. “Minnie, Irv Gittings hopped a private jet with your husband.”
“He not my husband anymore.” A far-away look lit her eyes for a moment, a look I couldn’t read.
The Madam and the Diplomat—a B movie if there ever was one. I doubted it played well in halls of power in Beijing. “Your daughter, Kim, was along for the ride, too. Don’t you want me to find her?”
Miss Minnie flicked a glance my way. I’d say it was inscrutable, but that would be a cliché and bordering on non-PC, wouldn’t it?
“Girl? Bah.” From her tone and puckered mouth I actually thought she might spit. Thankfully I was wrong. “Girls no good for nothing but trouble.”
I couldn’t argue. Kimberly Cho, Miss Minnie’s daughter—a recent revelation that still had me a bit on my heels—had run me in circles in my own town, played me for a chump and then had hot-footed with her father and Irv Gittings.
“Last I heard they were headed to Macau,” I threw that out there, a hook perhaps to catch Minnie’s complicity.
Her pupils pinpointed. “Then why you need me? You already know where they go.”
“Macau is a maze. Tiny winding streets, thousands of miniscule apartments—a tiny island with six-hundred-thousand people on it.” Taking a deep breath and counting to ten, I worked to not wring the life out of Miss Minnie. Truth of it was, I needed a lead and she was the best hope I had—yep, a new low. Life was trying to teach me something. Either that or Santa had a huge bitch streak. “Three needles in a very large haystack. You can tell me exactly where to start digging.”
Minnie looked like a teakettle ready to boil. I braced myself.
“You killed Sam,” she shrieked as she launched herself at me with a growl, trying to rake me with pointed talons.
Actually, she didn’t launch herself so much as lean like a small tree felled in the forest. I stepped to the side and watched as she face-planted on the carpet that probably hadn’t been visited by a cleaner since it left the factory. A landed carp.
And I’d thought this was going so well.
A landed carp, she wiggled and thrashed, trying to throw her bound body over. Curiously detached, I watched and marveled at the incongruity of my life. This was my Christmas.
A life intervention! That’s what I needed. And I’d thought I had a pretty good handle on my life. But that was before Teddie came back. Then everything had gone on tilt and I hadn’t found my footing since.
Miss Minnie flopped a few more times then quit. The floor was as far as she would get without help.
Bending, I grabbed her, pinning her arms at her side and lifted her up. A tiny human, she was as light as she looked, which was a good thing. While I could throw my weight around, I wasn’t as strong as my size might lead one to believe—intimidation rather than force was my game.
I held her while she fought, making sure to keep out of the reach of her teeth. One wooden-soled shoe connected with my shin, evaporating my thin veneer of restraint. I carried her to a small couch in the corner of the vestibule and tossed her down, her Geisha finery immobilizing her better than I could have. One breast escaped and fell like an under-inflated water balloon. That was a bit more of Minnie than I needed.
She didn’t appear concerned. Instead, she struggled to lean forward, scooching to the edge of the couch to get her weight over her feet. Each time she almost got there, I pushed her back.
Finally, she tired of the game. “You kill Sam.” Now she sounded like a mother who had lost her son, which she was.
I didn’t feel bad about the shot part, but I my heart constricted for the mother-losing-a-son part. No matter how bad the child, a mother was always a mother—or so my own mother, Mona, told me—but Mona couldn’t always be trusted.
In a logic kind of mood, I gave it a shot, knowing full well logic never trumped emotion. But, hope springs eternal and all of that. “Irv Gittings shot Sam. And Sam had it coming.” Considering Sam had killed Holt Box, effectively ending a county and western comeback story, and than had framed Teddie for the murder, I wasn’t feeling at all charitable toward the former Sam Cho. He also then attempted to kill both my father and me thereby solidifying his name close to the top of my shit list. Irv Gittings had earned the top spot.
Miss Minnie spit, narrowly missing my left foot. “You know nothing. Sam a good boy.”
No logic in that. And it dawned on me that I really didn’t have the time to soften-up Miss Minnie—if that was even possible. Or maybe I didn’t want to take the time. Whatever. Time to play my ace. “I have Frank.” Frank was Sam’s brother, Miss Minnie’s second son, and the Dr. Jekyll to Sam’s Mr. Hyde.
“You bring Frank?” A glimmer of interest.
I took that as a good sign. “Maybe,” I told her, not feeling at all remorseful about the lie.
Her narrowed-eyed look told me she didn’t trust me. I knew how she felt—I didn’t trust me either.
Frank was a guest of the Silver State at the High Desert State Prison outside of Indian Springs forty-six miles north of Las Vegas. My cohort, Detective Romeo, a detective-in-training (my characterization, not his) for the Metropolitan Police Department, was working on remanding Frank to my care, but his mother didn’t need to know that. Frank would be my bargaining chip in Macau. His mother didn’t need to know that either.
My plan was to bring Kimberly Cho back, find a way to rid the world of Mr. Gittings without taking the fall for it, and do the same to Mr. Cho if it turned out he was behind the recent assassination attempt on my father.
What can I say, I’m an over achiever. And revenge is my game.
And then there was Teddie to think about.
But, before I went all vigilante, I needed some information. “You need to tell me what game your ex-husband and your daughter are playing.”
“Why you think I know?”
I gave her the what-do-you-take-me-for look.
She didn’t buy it. “What make you think anybody tell Minnie anything? I just a small business owner.”
That was like calling a Great White just another shark.
I changed tactics. Logic clearly wasn’t the right gambit. “Stupidity, I guess.” Keeping an eye on Miss Minnie—I glanced around the entrance area to the massage parlor. Faded carpet, unraveling in places with a dark track from the door to the counter then continuing around the desk and down the long hallway toward the back, large windows fogged with dirt, a pink neon sign blinking from high in the corner, the sizzle of aging bulbs audible above the low thumping music from the back, the place reeked of sexual desperation. I still didn’t understand the whole prostitution thing. Never would. But I’d learned enough about human peccadillos to read Minnie like a book.
“To be honest, Minnie, I don’t even know why I’m here. Really stupid of me to think you might know something. That you might be able to help me find your daughter and stop her father.” I gave her the benefit of my full attention. “I mean, really. Who would tell you anything? I’m sorry I bothered you.” I moved toward the door but I didn’t turn my back on her—a rabid dog, she was waiting for the chance to bite me in the ass.
“You bring my son home?” She managed to stand, weaving a bit before finding her balance. “You give me back Frank?”
One hand on the door, I paused. “It depends. What do you have to trade?”
She eyed me, a butcher weighing meat on the hoof. I countered with my best I’m-out-of-here attitude. At a momentary impasse, I called her bluff. Showing her my back, I pushed the door open.
I wiped the gloat off my face before I turned.
The large glass storefront to my right exploded.
Instinctively, I flinched away, my arms covering my head, my face tucked to the side. Ducking down, I waited for the next shot. It didn’t come. Outside tires squealed. I looked up in time to see brake lights flash as a car turned fishtailed onto the road and disappeared into the darkness.
The hallway doors opened disgorging girls and guys in various states of undress excitedly chattering.
“Get back.” Still in a crouch I motioned them to stop. “Go back to what you were doing. Excitement’s over.”
They hovered barely inside the hallway, but at least they didn’t step out into the open.
“Minnie, you okay?”
Standing, I brushed my slacks down as I kept my eyes looking out the window for more shooters. The fact that I was more pissed than scared probably should bother me, but frankly, being shot at had gotten to be a bit old-hat.
Miss Minnie didn’t answer.
One of the girls stepped around the corner. With a hand to her mouth, she screamed. I swiveled to look.
Slumped on the couch, Miss Minnie’s eyes were wide, her mouth slack. She pressed a hand to her chest. Blood seeped through her fingers.
“Shit!” I grabbed a towel from the front desk. Kneeling beside her, I gently moved her hands. Pressing the towel to the neat little hole, I then put her hands on the cloth. Her eyes followed me.
“Hold this, okay?”
I felt her hands press down—not much, but enough.
“You shoot me?” Her ragged voice held the hint of wonder.
“Don’t be silly. I need you. When I don’t need you anymore, then I’ll shoot you.” I hit the emergency button on my iPhone. When the 911 dispatcher answered, I barked instructions. Finished, I left the call open, but put the phone down, turning back to Miss Minnie.
“You real funny girl,” she gasped.
“And I’m the best hope you have to get your kids back.”
Even through the haze of pain, she looked like she was mulling that over.
“Besides, my father would kill me if I shot you now.”
That got a hint of a reaction. She and the Big Boss went way back to old Vegas when the Mob ran the town—hard times bred unusual friendships. I wasn’t sure what to make of that, but no one seemed to care so I didn’t either. “Your father a good man.”
The look on her face told me she didn’t think he’d passed on that bit of DNA to his daughter. “I know.” I put my hand on top of hers and added pressure.
She covered mine with her other hand. “You remember that.”
That struck me as odd, but now was not the time to go into it. “Of course. Who did this?”
“It not matter. Minnie old. Tired.” She worked to pull in a deep breath. “In Macau, you find Sinjin. He help you.”
“Sinjin? How do I find him?”
Her voice grew weaker. “Maybe he find you. Sinjin know everything.”
I could feel her blood, warm and thick, leaking through the towel. Talking drained her. “Okay. I’ll find Sinjin. Be quiet now.” Sirens sounded in the distance, quickly growing louder. “Stay with me. Just a minute or two more.”
Sinjin knows everything. I wanted to ask her what she meant, but I couldn’t. She would expend her last bit of energy trying to tell me and then she would die. Not a fair trade. Still…
I only considered it for a nanosecond, a victory considering the task ahead. I’m not normally quite so virtuous.
Did Sinjin have all the answers? Is that what she meant when she said he knew everything? God, I hoped so. But I also knew better. Life never was that easy, at least, not mine.
As the ambulance skidded to a stop in front, its strobing lights painting the walls red, her eyelids fluttered then closed.
She didn’t answer. A thready pulse beat under the two fingers I pressed to the hollow of her neck and I breathed a sigh.
An EMT brushed me aside with a muttered thank you, his hands replacing mine as his co-worker took Miss Minnie’s vitals. “What happened?”
“Drive by shooting. One gunshot.”
His eyes flicked to mine. They were blue. Recognition flared. We’d met before over a bomb. “Lucky.”
The way he said my name, well, it sounded a bit ironic. I knew what he meant. When my mother named me Lucky, she’d unknowingly invited the Fates to prove her wrong.
Apparently they’d accepted her invitation.
“Hey.” I couldn’t remember his name, if I’d ever known it. I felt sure I had, but my brain had reached capacity years ago and, so far, I hadn’t found anything worth forgetting so I could remember him. He was cute, but cute only got you a second look, not a permanent place in the gray matter.
He turned back to his work. “When are you going out to dinner with me?” He was clamping and pressing; blood was oozing. Miss Minnie still hadn’t opened her eyes.
“Seriously? A woman is dying and you’re thinking about a dinner date?” I looked at him, bug eyed. Men were scary. Mona had told me that, how many times? She’d phrased it a bit more delicately—something along the lines of men were different—but this was the first time I understood she had been underselling her theory.
“She’s not dying,” he said.
“She’s crashing,” the other EMT said, his voice calm, his demeanor not so much. The banter fell away.
Giving them room to work, I crossed my arms and stepped out of the way. A few of the girls eased closer angling for a look. My glare sent them scurrying back to their rooms.
Who would want to kill Minnie? The list was probably long, but standing there, with her blood on my hands, killing became all too real in its horror and I couldn’t think of anyone who would want to do that… including me.
Even when it came to Irv Gittings.
I talked a big game, sure. But all in all, I ‘d rather someone else be responsible for the rope, the hood and pulling the lever to drop the trap door.
I worried a button on my sweater that already hung by a thread. It popped off in my hand and I hurled it through the broken window.
At a loss as to who to call, what to do, I lapsed into my normal state—pissed off.
If I could only get my hands around Irv Gittings’s neck. I wouldn’t kill him—that I’d leave to the pros. But I wasn’t above making him wish he was dead.
Someone had shot Minnie! The thought that had angered me before now took my breath. While I didn’t like her, I respected her, which was more important. A woman hacking and slashing her way through a man’s world—and teaching them how the game was played, she was a force. A lot like my mother. Of course, I would never tell Mona I respected her—she’d punish me forever.
The night air sent shivers through me. Or maybe it was the breath of Death, cold and close. As I pulled my sweater tight around me, I noticed frayed threads. A closer look. The threads bracketed a tear.
I looked at the window, remembering where I’d stood. Then a glance at Minnie.
The bullet had grazed my shoulder.
I guess I had been a good girl after all, or at least had enough karma points to trade for a little more time.
But Minnie? Why Minnie? She ran a semi-respectable business, which was far above the norm in Vegas. As far as I knew—and as a well-connected, native Vegas casino brat, that was a lot—Minnie kept her nose clean, steered clear of trouble and paid-off the right folks.
So why would someone want her dead?
That night, at that moment, it never dawned on me that Miss Minnie had taken a bullet meant for me.
Okay, technically it now was the day after Christmas, but I hadn’t had a Christmas yet, and I was enough of a kid to hold that against the Fates.
I’d asked Santa for a sexy Frenchman in his skivvies—my kind of package.
But, instead of getting what I asked for, I’d gotten an attempted murder in a whorehouse masquerading as a massage parlor and a night talking to the cops.
Clearly, when it had come to that naughty or nice thing, I’d fallen on the wrong side of that line. I planned on holding that against the Fates as well.
But I was alive, so there was that.
Yes, I had lost my Christmas cheer, which wasn’t unusual. Cheery was not an adjective anyone would include in my epitaph. Living down to expectations, it’s what I do.
The Metropolitan Police Department, Metro to those of us who held it in low esteem—and deservedly so—had kept us for hours. Thankfully Detective Romeo had ridden to my rescue and busted me out early. Miss Minnie was still hanging on, but when I’d checked an hour or so ago, the doctor had said it would be touch and go once she came out of surgery.
Nothing to do but go home.
Home. A lantern in the storm.
The streets of Summerlin were quiet, everyone sleeping off Christmas. One neighbor already had put his tree to the curb, decorations and all. I didn’t even want to think about what had precipitated that. I’d had enough sad for the night.
My red Ferrari easily recognizable, the guard waved me through the gate.
The garage light clicked on as the door rose. I still couldn’t reconcile my life with a house in the suburbs, a fiancé, a future stepchild and a garage door clicker, with the me I used to be. Funny that. Life choices. The suburbs or the Strip? Jean-Charles or Teddie? And why did choosing one always mean losing the other?
Tip-toeing through the mudroom into the kitchen, I tried to be quiet as I set down my keys and purse. The lingering aromas of dinner—something Italian maybe—curled around me. Toys littered the floor. A game of Operation had been shoved to the side of the large country table. Four place settings. Mine still had a knife and fork atop a clean napkin folded, waiting.
I felt the guilty prick of unmet expectations.
The strains of Moonlight Sonata led me to the bar off the kitchen. Jean-Charles had waited up for me.
He stood in front of the fire, attired as I’d asked for, his hands clasped behind his back, worry pinching the skin between his eyebrows into a slight frown. His eyes closed, he swayed to the music, lost in it. A few inches taller than my six feet, my fiancé…yes, my fiancé… had waited and worried, making me feel lucky indeed. The Fates be damned.
To be honest, I still couldn’t get used to the idea of getting married. And to such a man! Tall enough, as I said, trim in all the right places, with full lips, chiseled features, wavy brown hair her wore just a trifle long, and smile that lit his Robin’s egg-blue eyes, he was a feast for sure. And he could cook! An added benefit since I’d never been known to pass up a meal. But it was the way he looked at me, the way he listened, and the way he made me feel that had won my heart.
My heart, the one I’d taken back from Teddie.
Sensing me standing there, he opened his eyes. His smile warmed me to the core, banishing my murderous evening. Holding his arms wide, he welcomed me into an embrace.
Tucking my face into the crook of his neck, I let him hold me. And I knew I could get through anything if this…if he…was waiting for me at the end of it all.
“You are okay?” he whispered, his breath warm against my cheek.
I tried not to think about Miss Minnie, the look in her eyes—imploring, scared. Even though I’d washed off her blood, I could still feel the warmth, the vitality… her essence… as it leaked out of her. I could feel her fear, her fight. I shivered.
“What’s the matter?” Jean-Charles sensed my discomfort.
I pulled him over to the couch then curled under his arm, tucking my feet up under me after I’d shucked my shoes.
And I told him.
The song started over twice before I had finished. Jean-Charles hadn’t said a word—he’d simply held me tight and let me talk. When I’d finished, he kissed my forehead. “You are going to Macau.”
It wasn’t a question—he knew I had no choice. Well, I guess we all have a choice, but letting Irv Gittings get away was not one of them. But, we both knew that wasn’t exactly why I was going.
I’m not sure I could find the words to describe all that Teddie had been and continued to be to me. Best friends, my first love, my biggest disappointment and now, back to best friends, even though it still rankled that he looked better in my clothes than I did. Teddie had been Vegas’s foremost female impersonator. I’d even let him wear my vintage Chanel and my Manolos even though he stretched them out. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is…was. The break in my heart still hurt when I thought of him.
Unfortunately our relationship had been a bit one-sided. Teddie had fallen more in love with himself than with me. In the race of love, a distant second wasn’t what I was hoping for, wasn’t what I needed. Teddie left. I’d let him go.
Then he came back—a ruse created by my parents, but I couldn’t exactly prove it. That’s where things had gone from bad to abysmal.
Teddie had fled house arrest for a murder he didn’t commit. Somewhere in that pea-sized brain of his, he thought it would be a good idea to go off half-cocked to Macau to bring Irv Gittings to justice and, according to Mona, me back to his bed.
So not happening.
But, regardless, somehow it was my fault, in a roundabout sort of way—I hadn’t handled Teddie’s return very well. My friends and family argued with my assessment. But, my fault or not, I felt responsible. And the only way to live with it was to make it go away.
And somehow, some way, I needed to put my feeling for Teddie to bed. Okay, a bad analogy, but I needed to get him out of my head and my heart. Time to move on. But I couldn’t let him die for me.
A martyred love—just what I needed. Of course, it wasn’t all about me, but right now I was feeling a bit put-upon.
A fly the spider had singled out for dinner.
So yes, for a myriad of reasons, I had to go to Macau.
Teddie was ill equipped to deal with Irv Gittings and the Chos, and the God-knew-who-elses of the Chinese underworld. Unlike Teddie, I had a lifetime of dealing with low-lifes. So, the job fell to me.
There was that irony again.
While Jean-Charles wasn’t pleased, to put a nice spin on it, he was trying to be supportive.
“And Cielo?” he asked, still holding me, still loving me, but a slight mock in his voice as if choosing Teddie over a hotel was an incomprehensible choice. To be honest, I agreed with him.
Cielo. My very own hotel. The Grand Opening loomed—New Year’s Eve.
And I had to go to Macau. I couldn’t even begin to process how stupid an idea that was, so I didn’t.
Maybe, just maybe, the police would do their job and I wouldn’t have to go.
Right. And maybe Irv Gittings would turn himself in, the Chinese would stop trying to game the system, and Teddie would be alive. Perforated I could deal with—and he had it coming.
Teddie. Are first loves ever forgotten?
I pulled Jean-Charles’s other arm around me. “Everything is in place. I’ll have my phone. And maybe you will help me stay on top of things?”
“Of course, however it is not ideal.”
“Is anything ever? But it is inevitable.”
He kissed my forehead. “I do love that about you, always riding to the rescue.”
Tilting at windmills that had developed a habit of shooting back—that’s my gig. I lifted my face to his for a long, sweet kiss.
“Macau will be dangerous,” Jean-Charles said after I released him, his accent making the whole thing sound somehow wonderfully delicious and exciting.
“No more than here.” In the last couple of days I’d been shot at more times than I could count. Frankly, it was getting old. Maybe a change of scenery would change my luck. Yeah, even I didn’t believe that.
“I can not argue with that.” He toyed with the large diamond on my left ring finger. “You owe it to me to come back.”
“I know.” Desperate to change the subject before we ruined Christmas, I placed my hand on his stomach, skin to skin. I gasped at the sizzle, the electric connection that arced through me. It happened each time we touched but still surprised me.
Jean-Charles pulled in a deep breath through his nose. He felt it, too.
I let my hand wander. “I haven’t had my Christmas yet.”
He chuckled—a low rumble in his chest. “And what did you ask for?”
“A handsome Frenchman wearing very little.”
“Then you must’ve been a good girl.” He pulled my shirt free and worked a hand under it. Cupping my breast, his thumb teased the nipple to a peak through the thin fabric of my bra.
“I am always good,” I said in my most suggestive voice. Somehow I didn’t laugh. “But I’m feeling naughty.” I worked my hand down to test just how…engaged my Frenchman was. An embarrassing lack of control, even for me. Could I plead unfulfilled homicidal tendencies, all that unused adrenaline? That and the fact that I was head-over-heels, all contributed to my taking what I needed.
My Frenchman had already risen to the occasion.
He stood, then pulled me to my feet. Wrapping my arms around his neck, I captured his mouth as I pressed myself against him.
His tongue tangling with mine. He groaned when I deepened the kiss. “The bedroom?” He managed.
“The kids?” I figured he had that well in hand, but it never hurt to ask.
Jean-Charles had a five-year-old son, Christoff. A head full of blonde curls, a smile to match his father’s and eyes a deeper blue, the boy, taking a lead from his father, had wormed his way into my heart before I’d known what was happening. Jean-Charles’ niece, Chantal, a culinary student intent on following her uncle into the business, was also bunking at her uncle’s place. Two kids, two of us—we were horribly out numbered.
“They are asleep.” Jean Charles sounded less than certain.
“Yes.” He broke away for a moment and closed the double doors as I shucked my shoes. “Kids,” he added, tossing the word like water onto a fire. Nothing like children to kill the sexual mojo.
“Always plotting,” I said completing his thought in the same way he completed me.
Sex with kids in the house was a bit different than my usual pick-a-partner-and-a-piece-of-furniture-and-have-at-it. I’d learned this lesson the hard way. Jean-Charles and I had about herniated ourselves in the bathroom, doors locked, the theme song to Thomas the Tank Engine at a decibel level suitable for torture. Mind blowing sex, but that song now conjured physical reactions I didn’t think the creators intended.
The den, with its windows and louvered doors presented a new challenge.
As I shucked my clothes, I lowered the blinds and secured the doors. Ever the Frenchman, Jean-Charles picked the perfect wine. If he thought we were easing into this over a perfectly chilled Sancerre, he had another thing coming.
“For later,” he said with a smile as if he could read my thoughts.
He probably could, which should have terrified me—my brain is hallowed ground, sacred in its weird rituals—but, I guess he truly was the One, because I no longer cared if he saw behind the curtain.
As I stepped out of my slacks in the middle of the room, Jean-Charles paused, his eyes alight. Then he thrust the bottle into a bucket of ice, and moved around the bar.
He stopped me as I hooked a finger through the fine lace that Mona assured me passed for functional underwear. To me the stuff gave me a perpetual wedgie, but the effect it had on my Frenchman made me willing to suffer through.
“My turn,” He whispered, his breath warm against my cheek. Deliberately slowing the pace, he reached behind me and undid my bra with a simple flick that always left me in awe. I’d been fastening and unfastening bras far longer than he had, but perhaps not as often as he did, and I couldn’t do it with such skill. I’d love to know his trick, but even I knew some things are best left to lie.
I let him slow it down—history had taught me that slow was definitely better…especially with Jean-Charles—he delighted in each nuance. I was good with that—as long as he stroked all the right buttons.
As it turned out, all that slow and sensuous was way out of reach for both of us. Fear prodding us, love entangling us, we tore at each other with an intense need for connection in the face of a long goodbye.
Goodbye sex is like make up sex, but with desperation replacing the languid surety of a bit more time.
The tingle of sex still sizzling through me like a shorted wire brought me slowly to consciousness. Enjoying the memory, savoring the heat from my Frenchman wrapped around me on the couch, I lingered in the half-awake state… until I realized the sizzle, which was really a vibration, came from my phone.
Irritation dampened the afterglow and life came back into focus.
Reality, such a downer… at least parts of it.
Worn out, a bit defeated, deflated at the thought of heading across the Pacific to face God knew what, and totally unwilling to disturb Jean-Charles, I let the call roll to voice mail. For a moment, peace reigned…then the damned thing vibrated a new.
“Perhaps it is important?” Jean-Charles’s voice was husky with sleep. Awake, he decided to nibble on my shoulder, which made it damned hard to not call his bluff.
“Everyone who calls me thinks it’s important. I rarely agree.” I wormed my arm around, my hands searching for the vibration. “Stop that.” I said, pleasure and a giggle infusing each word, which sort of defeated the purpose.
He switched to my ear, making me shudder deliciously.
“That’s not what I meant.” Despite my best intentions to be dour, I giggled. “What time is it?” I asked trying to get a foothold in the day.
Jean-Charles found the phone under his left thigh, which rested on my right one. I didn’t want to think about how it got there, or if I had inadvertently butt dialed someone in the past few hours giving a whole new meaning to the term phone sex. Used to humiliation, I didn’t worry about it too much—except for the host of media-types on speed-dial. Reading about my tryst in Norm Clarke’s column in the R-J tomorrow… later today… would not add to my Christmas cheer, even lacking as it was.
“Still early.” Jean-Charles said between nibbles.
“So helpful.” I glanced at the caller ID. The Big Boss, Albert Rothstein to the masses, Father to me, was the God of the Babylon properties. And as such, mentioning his name usually prompted a genuflection or some other sign of supplication—not from me, of course—I knew his secrets one of which was that he was human. Right now more human than I could handle. Yet, still, he was one of the few people who could rock my world.
As I swiped my finger across the face of the phone, all vestiges of warmth, sleep, happiness and hopes for a normal life, evaporated. “Is everything okay?” I was proud I hadn’t shouted.
“Ah, Lucky,” he sighed. “I heard what happened at Minnie’s. When you didn’t call…”
With a sinking heart, I realized I’d added to his worries. He’d already been shot; he didn’t need another load from me. “I’m so sorry, Father. I only got home a couple of hours ago. Calling you in the middle of the night didn’t seem like a good idea.” Of course, I hadn’t thought of calling him, which added a huge line item to my guilt list.
This whole family thing was pretty new, and it still surprised me that there were people who worried about me. Until recently, Mona and the Big Boss had kept his paternity secret, not only from me but from everybody else as well. It was complicated, but I understood—apparently even In Vegas and even thirty years ago, it was a felony to have sex with a minor. Mona had lied about her age, but that didn’t change the facts—she was pregnant with me. So, instead of ruining the Big Boss’s career, they’d lied. But, now they’d come clean and my family had doubled in size. And my father was a worrier.
My mother, not so much. Mona had always been there, but she slept until noon and wouldn’t even consider worrying until fully-caffeinated and the police had issued a nationwide APB. Awakening her usually resulted in an evisceration as painful as hara kiri. Justification, I know but, to shift from fiercely independent to interconnected at my age was asking a lot. “How did you hear about Minnie?” I asked my father.
“I know people.” That line was joke between us, considering the Big Boss had come up through the ranks of the Mobbed-up Vegas. But now it didn’t sound so funny. “We need to talk.” His voice held the nobody-fucks-with-my-family tone.
Jean-Charles started to move off of me.
“No.” I pulled him back down.
“No?” My father didn’t sound pleased—he wasn’t used to having that tone ignored.
“I wasn’t talking to you.”
“Oh.” Now he sounded confused and perhaps chagrined as the light must’ve dawned. Used to having me at his beck and call, the Big Boss was till transitioning to the concept of my having a life, a real life, outside of the Babylon. Of course, we both knew that was a clever bit of a fiction—the Babylon had me on a short leash—but we’d been keeping up the farce.
Jean-Charles caught my lips in a sensuous kiss. I focused all my attention, savoring, making a memory.
“Lucky?” The demanding voice of my father in my ear.
Slowly, reluctantly, I relinquished Jean-Charles’s lips. “I’m here,” I answered my father as I shifted into good-daughter mode. “Are you okay? Mother? The twins who have yet to be named?” Yes, despite my advanced age of thirty… ish, my parents had just given birth to twins. Of course, my mother had been fifteen when she had me, but still. She’d been a hooker after all—you’d think she would’ve learned something. My thoughts took a hard left. My father had been awfully happy lately…. Still squeamish about my parents’ sex life, I shuddered, then wrestled my thinking back on track.
Good at procreation, bad at protection, Mona still couldn’t settle on names. I wondered what that was about.
“We’re all fine. But,” he hesitated which made my heart skip a beat.
I waited then felt compelled by worry to jump into the silence. “You know I hate buts.”
My father was more the bull-in-the-china-shop than a beat-around-the-bush type. Still he hesitated as my blood pressure spiked. “We need to talk. There are some things you need to know.”
Ah, the payoff for all that worry—there really was something to worry about. The Big Boss wasn’t good at hiding things either. “Okay. When?”
“On your way to airport. They are readying the Gulfstream.”
“Now?” I clutched my Frenchman to me.
Two simple words yet they lodged like bullet in my brain. “Did you send someone to pack for me, too?” Being railroaded was a sure way to piss me off. My father knew that. I didn’t like what that implied.
“Lucky.” Now a tone of exaggerated patience that wheezed into imploring. So not like the Big Boss. He never implored anyone other than the Virgin Mary, which was sort of funny, all things considered. Rothstein wasn’t a Catholic name, but we each are entitled to our own beliefs and superstitions.
“Where exactly am I going?”
I must’ve still sounded pissed.
When ha answered with a “Lucky, please,” he sounded tired. No. More than that. Defeated.
Oh, this was so not good.