“The Versailles Palace,” Terri said, sliding in the back seat of the taxi. “Extra twenty if you keep your eyes on the road and don’t look back here.”
The taxi driver grinned and wiggled his eyebrows. “You’re in the backseat alone, Miss. What could you possibly be doing that’s bad?”
Why were taxi drivers so annoying? Just once she wanted one that didn’t leer at her. “Your windows are tinted and I have a dildo. Fill in the blanks.”
He blinked, clearly shocked at her boldness. He recovered quickly. “Can I watch?” He adjusted the front rearview mirror.
She flashed him her best “in your dreams, pal,” smile and slipped her hand inside her large bag. “I have a Taser and will zap you if you don’t adjust that mirror.”
“Women,” he mumbled, angling the mirror, and stepped on the gas. They followed the line of cars heading toward the Las Vegas Strip.
Just once, Terri wished she could get into the backseat of a taxi driven by an adventurous man with a hot body and something between his ears. A man who got her whacky sense of humor and was willing to flirt without prejudging her or expecting something in return. On the other hand, she hadn’t had sex in ages she’d forgotten what a naked man looked like. She desperately needed a booty call. Her life was too much of a hot mess for anything else.
Terri reached inside her oversize bag and pulled out a bellhop uniform. The sun had already set. The lights from the Strip and the lure of anonymity in the overcrowded city beckoned. She couldn’t wait to disappear again.
The driver stared straight ahead with his head angled, as though waiting to catch sounds from the backseat.
“Ooh. Oh, yes. That feels good. Ohmigod. I think I’m coming. Ah… ah… fuck! Yesssssss!”
He glanced over his shoulder and their eyes met. Sucker. “Eyes on the road, mister.” He laughed and shook his head, focusing on his driving.
Terri grimaced. Men were so easy.
She removed the bright red wig and shoved it in the bottom of her bag, then the fake nose ring and tongue and ear studs, before removing the rings from her fingers. She wiped off the heavy makeup and dumped the soiled tissue in the side pocket for later. Her outfit was also designed to draw attention because she’d learned that it was better to do the unexpected, like hide in plain sight, to fool the bastards tailing her.
She removed the mini dress and thigh-length boots and replaced them with gray pants with burgundy and white stripes and sensible shoes. She paused to check on the driver before removing her top and replacing it with a burgundy shirt with gray and gold details on the sleeves, collar, and pockets. The uniform was worn by bellhops at the Versailles Palace, her former employer. The gold buttons decorating the front had the VP logo on them. She brushed her hair before pulling it back and putting on the hat.
The VP was famous for their impeccably dressed staff, from bellhops to the hostesses at their casino, thanks to her. How she missed being the Director of Public Relations, the job she’d held for seven years before she had to disappear.
They pulled behind a line of private cars, limos, and other taxis dropping off guests as she tapped the driver’s shoulder.
“Stop here.” She gave him the fare plus tip, got out of the back seat, grabbed her bag, her suitcase, and a briefcase full of money. She hoped that all the driver saw was the back of her head as she hurried toward the front of the hotel.
The gray-haired doorman didn’t see her until she was right beside him.
Morgan Taylor turned and gawked at her. She’d gotten him this job seven years ago and he was still the best doorman Vegas had. He knew what made this city tick. The number runners. The private gambling parlors. The movers and the shakers of Vegas. The latest whales and where to find them. His daughter, Claire, was one of the managers.
“Ms. Randal,” he whispered. Then he adjusted his glove, reached down as though to catch the bag on top of her suitcase from sliding on to the floor and straightened up. He pointed to the right. “Straight ahead to elevator three.”
“Thank you, Mr. T.” Terri swept inside the gleaming foyer. She only slowed down to reach inside her bag for the key card Morgan had dropped inside it. She headed to the private elevators.
The hotel was busy with arriving guests and gamblers heading to the casino. Anyone would assume she was just another bellhop seeing to the needs of a special guest. The private elevators were for guests in the penthouse suites. Unlike regular guests checking in at the lobby, a hostess checked in high rollers in the top suites while they sipped cognac or champagne in the Apollo’s Salon, a lounge off the lobby.
She held the card near the reader and the elevator doors slid open. She entered, keeping her head low while waiting for it to close. She knew exactly where the cameras were located and how to avoid her face getting plastered on the screens in the security room.
The ride up was smooth. The elevator opened into the penthouse hallway. The suites on this floor had one to three bedrooms and a panoramic view of the Strip. She used the same keycard to access the suite, and entered the private foyer. She blew out air and grinned.
“I made it.”
Instead of going to the bedroom, she went straight to the wet bar, poured herself a stiff drink, tossed it down her throat, and poured another before going to the bedroom. She put her suitcase on the bench at the foot of the bed. The curtains in the living/dining room were drawn and the lights turned off, but the glow from the sconces in the foyer was enough to show her the way to the bedroom and its king size bed. She sat and exhaled.
The first call she made was to Morgan. “Thank you. How long can I stay?”
“The entire weekend. Claire said some high roller booked it, but he called this morning and said he won’t need it.”
Great! That gave her three days. “Thanks, Mr. T. I owe you guys.”
“No, Ms. Randal. We owe you more than we could ever repay.”
He was referring to an incident that could have ended his daughter’s career had Terri not stepped in and helped. Plus, she’d taken a chance on Morgan and hired him when no hotel would offer him a job. She believed in giving people second chances.
“We’ll talk later, Mr. T.”
The next call was to a certain trendy bar in the southern part of Las Vegas.
“Lucky Barrel,” a sultry voice answered.
“I was told you have an opening for the position of a bartender,” Terri said and braced herself for a squeal. Lucille was five foot one with a voice of a banshee when excited, and she didn’t disappoint. Terri moved the phone from her ear to stop from going deaf.
“Where are you?” The questions started once the squealing stopped. “When did you get in town? Why didn’t you tell me you were flying in? I would have prepared the guest room. When are you getting here? And why didn’t you give me your new phone number?”
“Because I plan to throw it away in a few days. I just arrived, and I’m officially a squatter at the VP.”
“With a his-and-hers bathroom,” Terri said and grinned.
“Damn! For how long?”
“Two to three days.”
“Let’s have a girls' night out tomorrow night, so Kyle can appreciate me more when I return. We can do spa treatment at Madam Zoe, my treat. In the meantime, get your ass over here A.S.A.P. I won’t believe you are okay until I see you. And yes, we did lose Gerry. That’s the second bartender we’ve lost to some high roller. It’s like I’m running a marriage market for gay arm candy. I don’t care if I get slapped with discrimination, but no more gay bartenders. I’ve been checking out biceps and tight asses and trying to guess if they’re straight or gay instead of reading their resumes. The job is yours, sweetie, until you take off again.”
“My next game might be in Vegas. I haven’t decided yet, and yes, I’ll take the job.”
“We still have the guest room if you want it,” she added.
She refused to impose on them, or point her enemies their way. “We’ll see.”
“There’s nothing to see, missy. Get your ass over here. We have some catching up to do before your shift. I’ll tell Kyle you’re on your way so he can go back to his restaurant. He’s in my territory and getting on my nerves.”
“I’ll be there in a few.” Hanging up, Terri punched in the combination of the briefcase and grinned at the stack of bills. Hiding and skimping the last six months had been worth it. She could now afford to buy her share of the bar/restaurant owned by Lucille and her husband, Kyle Barrel. She and Lucille went way back, and she would trust the perky blonde with anything. Kyle was a total sweetheart too and doted on his wife, even putting up with her crazy best friend. But then again, who could refuse Lucille anything? She was adorable, until she opened her mouth.
Lucille was like a drill sergeant. Always had been, from the moment Terri’s family arrived in Las Vegas and moved in next door to their eccentric family. Lucille didn’t take no for an answer or back down from anything. When Terri’s mother later decided to relocate her family again, this time to the-middle-of-nowhere Idaho, Terri had begged her to let her stay behind with Lucille’s family and finish high school. Her mother was like a bear with her children. She didn’t believe in keeping them apart, but the move had only separated them physically. Terri and Lucille were tighter than two peas in a pod. Thicker than thieves. Or, as Lucille’s husband liked to say, Lucille knew where all Terri’s bodies were buried.
Terri stripped and entered the shower. The water temperature was perfect, so she lingered and hummed off key. The second she stepped out of the shower, she knew she was no longer alone in the suite.
She’d developed a sixth sense about these things. She got her first proof when she spied an expensive duffel bag on top of her suitcase at the foot of the bed. Her disposable phone was on the bed, so she had no way of calling for help.
She’d taken self-defense classes and knew the quickest way to disarm an attacker and escape, but she couldn’t fight whoever was out there naked or run out of the room while screaming for help. She wasn’t officially a guest in the hotel and didn’t need the attention. Then there was her money. There was no way she was leaving without it.
Pretending not to notice the duffel bag, she grabbed a towel, wrapped it around her, and hummed while dumping the contents of a vase into the nearest sink. She gripped the neck. A well-aimed hit would slow anyone down. Her hand tightened on the towel as she stepped into the room
A man stood by the window and appeared to be admiring the view, the light from outside silhouetting his body, and the one from the bathroom barely reaching his chest. The first thing she noticed was his height and his powerful shoulders. He was big. There was no way she could disarm him with a hit on his nose, chin, or Adam’s apple. That meant attacking low.
“Marx promised me a gift,” he said in a deep and husky voice. “I didn’t know you’d beat me to the room.”
A gift? Wow. Okay, so maybe an attack wouldn’t be necessary here. She could play along or reason with him. She sized him again. Height-wise, she was above average for a woman, so she liked her men big and masculine. Big size meant they were packing an eight- or nine-incher. Anything smaller was a deal breaker.
Now why was she thinking about what he was packing? Maybe it was his long shaggy hair. It fell past his collar. The power suit and that hair didn’t go together, but she was a sucker for thick hair. Better for gripping at just the right moment, not that she planned to grip his. Then there was the way he’d said “gift” in his deep, sensual voice.
He turned, the curtains falling back in place. She peered at his face. That body and that voice had to have an amazing face, but the light from the bathroom didn’t reach his face. It touched his expensive loafers and sharply creased pants, giving a hint of his powerful thighs. The visible shirt under his unbuttoned coat said he had zero fat in his mid-section.
The suit screamed tailor-made and his assurance said Mr. T. and his daughter had gotten it wrong. The high roller had made it, and he thought she was a gift.
“Do you speak English?” he asked.
“Of course. The plan was to surprise you.” Her voice was terribly calm, which didn’t surprise her. She hadn’t lived in the shadows the past five years without developing coping skills. One of them was never letting the other person know she was rattled. And she was rattled tonight. The other was improvising.
“I hope you approve,” she added while inching closer to where she’d left her clothes, but they weren’t on the floor where she’d dropped them. Where the hell were they?
He chuckled. “Wholeheartedly.”
She didn’t let his voice distract her. It was sexy as hell. A voice that could talk dirty to her all night and she’d never get tired of listening to it. She found her clothes. They were on a chair along with her bag and briefcase. She also spied something lacey in his hand. What the hell was he doing with her panties?
“If you throw those my way, I’ll just change back into my clothes and then we can sit down and iron out the details of the evening.”
“After all you went through to access my room, shower, and get ready for me? I thought a maid’s uniform was the standard outfit, but a bellhop is clever. I love ingenuity in a woman. Let go of the towel,” he said.
Terri’s stomach dropped. Surely, she hadn’t heard him right. “Excuse me?”
“Marx promised you’d fulfill all of my fantasies,” he said, his voice soft and easy. “Drop the towel and come here."