Chapter Twenty Eight

       Sally tapped the busboy’s shoulder as she passed by with a tray of drinks. “Table ten just left.”

    “Okay,” Mark replied, loading the latest dirty dishes in the bus cart. Pushing it over to table ten, he started to clear the table when he noticed a folded slip of paper tucked under one of the plate. Glancing around, making sure there was no one watching. Good, Sally and the other waitress were busy tending to customers, so Mark quickly palmed the note, shoving it into the front pocket of his apron. Then he went about his business, scraping off and removing the rest of the tableware before making his way into the kitchen.

    He waited for Sally to return to pick up her latest order. “I’m taking five for a smoke.”

    “No problem.”

    Pushing open the back door, Mark set down the bucket of dirty water he was carrying and reached for his cigarettes. “Got a light?”

    “Sure,” Gina said, from her position to the right of the door. Handing Mark her lighter, she closed her hand around the folded slip of paper he slipped her. Turning towards the far end of the alley, she quickly read the note and smiled, tearing it up and tossing it in the dumpster. Her boss’s plan to use the Dusk To Dawn for money laundering and drug trafficking had begun. Any take out phone orders for “Donald” would include a baggie filled with the fictitious customer’s drug of choice. Ecstasy, acid, pot.. the organization was well connected. Money meant for laundering would arrive in  an extra little pack tucked inside courier delivered “bank runs” for change for use in the bar. Since she was the bar’s accountant no one would have access to the smuggled in cash, not even Angel, for he knew better than to cross her. One call to her bosses and he was toast.

    Driving around town in an attempt to clear her head, as usual Jess had found her way to the Dusk To Dawn. Having made an inauspicious arrival, if it wasn’t for Angel’s keen eye – now more than ever with all that was going on at the bar – Jessie would have gone unnoticed at the far table in the restaurant section of the bar. Jess didn’t look herself, ponytail tucked into a faded baseball cap. Her body language was all wrong too. Dressed in an oversized navy sweater, she sat hunched over the table, taking tiny sips of a cup of tea. Angel sighed. Seems like there was a run of bad luck going around.

    Angel decided to give Jess some space, so he went back to checking packing list from the latest delivery. Anyone with half a brain could see she needed some time alone. He would keep an eye on her and only let Mitch know she was there is she took too long to make her way over to them.

    Phoebe on the other hand, had rushed over to Jessie’s apartment where she was informed by the door man that Jess had gone out. Even more anxious now, Phoebe hopped back in her clunkmobile and cruised around to Jessie’s usual hang outs – the bookstore, the Wave offices, Las Olas Blvd.. nothing. No Jess. Where could she be? Wait a minute, Phoebe thought. Duh! Of course! The Dusk To Dawn.

    Pulling up to the beachfront parking, Phoebe sighed with relief. There was Jessie’s car. Thank God. So she had found Jess. Now what? How would she approach her? Things were strained, the terrible sensation that had overcome her of Jessie gasping for breath clinched it. But Jessie hadn’t called. Never had so much time gone by between the time they argued and the time either friend picked up the phone to make amends. Trusting her gut, Phoebe decided to just roll with it, reacting to Jess and how she was feeling, which couldn’t be good after the terrible feeling she had gotten from her earlier.

    Seeing Phoebe enter the bar, Jess called out her name. “Phoebs!” she waved, giving her a weak wave.

    Mitch immediately turned, hearing Jessie’s voice. Even from where he was standing, Mitch could see that Jessie’s eyes were swollen, a telltale sign that she had been crying. His attention next went to Phoebe, their eyes locking. Phoebe too appeared out of sorts, her eyes voicing a silent plea to Mitch.

    Jessie spotted the exchange and got up from her table. Tired of being the source of worry for her friend, Jess took a deep breath and strolled over to Phoebe, smiling as best she could. Without a word she hugged her. “Fancy meeting you here..”

    “Right? Like where else do we ever hang out?” Phoebe replied, hugging her close.

    “Look who’s here Angel, our two favorite ladies in the whole world,” stated Mitch, leaning over the bar. “What can I do you for?”

    Jessie took a seat at the bar. “Coke. Lotsa ice.”

    “You have any Cherry Coke back there Mitch?” Phoebe asked, sitting down on the stool next to Jess. “It’s been ages since I’ve had one since.. high school!” she groaned. “God, we’re old!” she laughed.

The friends were chatting pleasantly when Phoebe’s eyes jaw dropped open.  “Oh my God,” Phoebe said, taking a sip from her straw, her eyes darting to the tv above the bar, “Angel, turn it up!”

    “Why? What’s up?” Angel asked, looking over his shoulder as he grabbed the remote.

    “Isn’t that the model Zach hires to do a lot of work for his paper?” Phoebe asked.

    “Yeah,” replied Mitch, “the same model Sid drools over.”

    Jessie sat in silence, knowing all too well who Candi was. All eyes were glued to the tv as they listened to the segment:

        ‘Super model Candi Daniels was snapped leaving
        the latest Diet Coke commercial shoot today
        sporting quite as shiner! Sources say the model
      was canned when makeup artists were unable
        to cover the bruise and swelling on her normally
        flawless face. Her replacement a young newcomer
        Toni Benson – that’s Toni with an I.. ay yay yay!
        What a looker! Someone’s gonna be keeping
        Candi on her toes!’

    “Hey, this is one of those Hollywood gossip shows, right?” Angel asked, watching a montage of Candi’s modeling work.

    “Shh,” Phoebe urged.

        ‘When approached by Hollywood Tonight Candi
        was less than sweet,’ the announcer said, as they
        played video of Candi rushing into her car,
        cameras flashing all around her, holding her
        purse in front of her face to encumber photographers
        from getting a clear shot of her face, ‘hiding
        her telltale battle wounds and shouting no
        comment. Reliable sources tell Hollywood Tonight
        that she got the bruise in a lover’s spat with
        her latest boyfriend.’

    “This chick gets around,” Mitch laughed, watching clips of Candi with a myriad of boyfriends.

    “She’s trouble with a capital t,” stated Phoebe.

        ‘Who is her latest love interest with a penchant 
        for getting physical? Keep it tuned to Hollywood
        Tonight for more details on what we’re sure is
        just the tip of the iceberg on this sexy vixen’s
        love life.’

    “Serves her right,” stated Phoebe, finishing the rest of her soda.

    “I wouldn’t say that,” Angel said, “no one deserves to be smacked around. It’s sad..”

    The gossip show cut back to their two hosts back at the studio, who chatted about Candi:

        ‘Candi seems to like to date wild guys,’ the
        female host said. ‘Funny thing is,’ commented
        the male host, ‘being the media junkie that
        she is, Candi has never made any bones about
        parading her latest hot boyfriend around town.
        Yet this time she got a little hot under the collar
        when asked who she was currently dating.’
        The female host grinned slyly. ‘There might
        be more of a story here than we anticipated.
        Maybe she’s so tight lipped because she’s
        dating a married man..’

    “Can you believe that?” Mitch groaned, “she’s so gaga over some guy that she’s willing to let him beat the crap out of her?”

    “Oh come on guys,” Phoebe laughed, “ she was asking for it then!”

    Jessie shook her head. “I don’t think so, Phoebs. No one deserves to be treated like that, no matter what.”

    Jessie looked away for a moment, memories of violence in her past rushing into her mind. She couldn’t help but feel sorry for someone who was apparently so in love that she was willing to allow that person to abuse her. She was even more sympathetic because of what she herself was going through. A stranger was blackmailing her, and could very likely have abused her physically too. Knowing all too well the shame that came from being mistreated, Jessie found herself getting angry.

    “I’m glad I don’t know anyone who’d hurt someone like that,” Jessie lied. “She must be so scared.”

    “That guy must be really cocky,” added Mitch, “I mean she’s a model. Didn’t he know what the consequences of his violence would be?”

    “Tell me about it,” Phoebe replied, “and he’s supposedly married too. What a jerk!”

    “That’s just a rumor,” stated Angel, not as easily convinced as the others, “we don’t know for sure if any of this is true. It’s a gossip show for chrissake. They’ll say anything to get ratings.”

    “True,” Mitch said, “she could have accidentally walked into a door or something..”

    Phoebe rolled her eyes at Mitch. “Oh come on! I don’t believe you actually said that!” she said, smacking his hand playfully.

    “No really, think about it. Wouldn’t you be embarrassed to admit you were clumsy enough to trip over your own feet and hurt yourself if you were a model?”

    “Well, she IS a blonde,” quipped Phoebe.

    “I don’t know,” Mitch mused, “sometimes these shows are right on the money. That’s why the people they talk about get so pissed.”

    “It’s bullshit,” Angel laughed. “They air stories like this because they know people like us will sit here as we’re doing now and speculate on it. They know we’ll all be tuning in to find out who Candi’s mystery man is. Well.. not ME, you knuckleheads!”

    Phoebe turned to Jess who was being way too quiet. “What do you think Jess?”

    Jessie shrugged, spinning her straw in her glass. “I don’t know,” she said, quietly, “I just feel sorry for her.”

    Back in New York, Jared and Toni had just finished watching the same broadcast. Toni naturally was all smiles, having caught her name being mentioned. She had squealed with delight when they had actually shown photos of her on the air.

    “Todd did a great job,” Jared said, leaning back in the hot tub as he eyed the pictures on the laptop again.

    “Careful, you don’t wanna electrocute us,” Toni teased, scooching over to him.

    Even as they enjoyed the pampering their expensive hotel room had to offer, Jared was still on the job. Placing his laptop within reach at the edge of the hot tub he praised himself for having made the brilliant decision to purchase high-end digital cameras for the office. For now his photographers could snap pictures and upload them to in minutes to newspapers, magazines or tv shows – whoever was willing to pay the most for the shots. Jared made a mental note to use some of the Hollywood Tonight money to buy a Mac computer so that they would be able to send video clips just as easily.

    “Sorry babe. I just can’t help it. Todd got some great shots.”

    Jared knew that they would be able to sell the images many times over, since Todd had been able to capture some very unflattering as well as revealing shots of Candi: Candi hiding, talking on the phone; a stressed out makeup artist trying to cover her clearly visible bruise, then Candi bauling him out; Candi being lectured by the photographer; even Candi looking on as Toni replaced her in the commercial. Masters at concealing their identities, Todd did what his other employees did – blend in. By assuming the role of a part of the catering staff and hiding his camera in an ‘insulated catering satchel, Todd was able to get what he had come for unnoticed.

    “Hey!” she pouted, tickling his thigh, “what about me?! I got you Candi’s cellphone number all by myself!”

    Toni was right. She had ingeniously managed to swipe Candi’s phone while no one was looking. Not only had she jotted down her phone number but had managed to get several numbers off her speed dial, which could offer clues as to whom her lover was.

  “You’re absolutely right,” Jared said, shutting down the computer and pushing it away. “You were fabulous, and for that you will be duly rewarded..”

    Before Toni could say a word, Jared was dropping off the seat of the tub, to stand chest deep before her. Smiling wickedly, he parted her long legs and submerged under the frothy surface of the water..

    It had been over an hour since Nick had broken in to her room, and not hearing any movement, Lynn guessed it was safe to take a peek. Peering out, she noticed that the room was aglow in the blue light from the television set. Nick had fallen asleep on the couch, his head resting against the right arm of the couch. She counted a few seconds, waiting to see if he moved, but not even the loud music coming from the tv was rousing him. He was sound asleep.

    Quietly, she crept out of the bathroom, purse in hand, praying her keys would jingle and awaken Nick. Saying a little prayer, she prayed her luck would hold. Holding her breath, she eased the suitcase out from under the bed. Keeping her eye on Nick, she made her way towards the door. Reaching it, she set down her suitcase and eased the door knob open slowly, with both hands, until she heard it click open. In a moment she slipped through the open door and carefully shut it behind her. She was free! Walking briskly towards the elevator she was able to breath again, knowing that at least for a few days she’s be safe from Nick’s clutches.

    The bathroom was dark, the only light coming from the red and cream colored candles on the edge of the tub, the smell of apples and vanilla filling the room, her only companion the soothing tones of soft jazz music from a small radio perched close by. Securing her hair atop her head, Krystal leaned back, sinking into the bubble bath. Watching the flickering candle light dance on the tiled wall next to her, she reflected on her wonderful afternoon and evening with Sid.

    He had touched her heart, basically telling her that he thought he wasn’t good enough for her. She couldn’t help remembering what he had said just before he had left her house and headed to work.

    “You work hard. What’s the shame in that?” she had said. “So you’re a waiter. Big deal..”

    “Actually I’m not a waiter anymore,” he beamed, slipping his shoes and socks back on.

    “Really?” Krystal said, leaning forward in interest, “what are you doing now?”

    “Well,” he hesitated, “if I tell you, you have to promise to keep it a secret.”

    “A secret?” Krystal asked, looking a little puzzled.

    “Yup, I don’t want anyone to know what I’m doing yet. I wanna surprise them all.”

    “Okay.. I won’t tell a soul. I promise..”

Krystal was suddenly snapped out of her daydreaming when she heard a familiar voice over the radio.

    “This song goes out to a special lady who knows just how to smoke up a place because she’s so hot. To a woman whose a real gem.. a dedication from someone who cares.”

    Krystal stretched luxuriously in the warm, soapy water as a Marvin Gaye song started to play, his smooth voice filling the room.

        “I’ve been really trying baby
        trying to hold onto this feeling for so long..”

    Krystal ran her bath sponge over her body and started to sing along.

        “And if you feel like I do sugar..
Come on, woah, come on..
        let’s get it on..
        Ohh baby, let’s get it on..

Let’s love sugar..
        Let’s get it on sugar..
        Let’s get it on..”

    Krystal’s skin tingled as she remembered how easily she had allowed things to get so hot between them during their picnic. Things had just clicked, and before either one had known it Krystal’s shirt was unbuttoned to the waist. Their meal forgotten, they had instead directly their attention at sampling each other’s bodies, hands roaming, kissing passionately. If it hadn’t been for the unfortunately and hilarious incident with the ants she and Sid could have very easily made love on her picnic blanket.

    Krystal moaned, her fingers skimming down her silky thighs to her throbbing womanhood, dreaming of how it would be when she made love to Sid. Krystal was sure it would be wonderful, since Sid was such a loving, sensitive man. Sid’s dedication had only served to stoke the fires of passion inside her, making her yearn to see him again, and soon. Although she ached with desire for him, Krystal was glad she would have time to plan the perfect romantic evening for them. Their first time would be special, in her big comfortable bed where nothing and no one could interrupt..

    Nick was roused from sleep with a jolt, his beeper sounding loudly next to him. Rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, he grabbed the beeper, pressing the button to read the number on it. He looked around, trying to get his bearings when he remembered where he was, Lynn’s hotel room. But there was no Lynn. “Damn it,” he said, reaching for the phone.

    “Where the hell are you Nick?!” Johnny yelled, over the loud background noise of the bar.

    “What do you mean I’m late?” Nick asked, looking groggily at his watch.

    “Dude, we were supposed to start our set thirty minutes ago!”

    Nick shook his head, trying to get himself awake. “Shit! Are the instruments set up at least?”

    “Yeah, we went ahead and set up. We’ve been killing time tuning up waiting for you. The boss has been shooting us dirty looks.”

    “Be there in fifteen minutes,” Nick croaked.

    “Make it five!” Johnny yelled, slamming down the phone.

    Nick was in a foul mood. His plans to confront Lynn had fallen through since she never had shown up, and now he was late. Not a problem, Nick thought, walking over to retrieve his jacket off a nearby chair. She had managed to elude him for now. But when she got back she’d have a nice little calling card waiting for her that would put her back in her place.

    Reaching into the pocket of his jacket, Nick pulled out an envelope, a case of déjà vu coming over him. Just as with Jessie he would be having the last laugh, with his little ace in the hole. Nick laughed remembering how he had set up a video camera before their last romp in his motel room. Nick wondered why he hadn’t thought of this before. Knowing that Lynn came from a wealthy family, she would prove to be another easy source of money. After he milked both Lynn and Jessie for several thousand dollars, he would move on to another wealthy town and run his con all over again.

  Kissing the envelope, he tossed it on the bed where he was sure Lynn would see it. Live it up while you can, he thought, because soon ole Nick’ll have the upper hand once again..

    Zach’s frustration built as the phone continue to ring. Where the hell could she be? Zach was steaming, upset that his fiancé was out again. Was she ever at home when he was away on business? Zach leaned back on the empty bed in his hotel room, hanging up the phone when he heard the answering machine in their apartment pick up. He was way too angry to leave a message, especially with the way things had ended when they last spoke. Zach looked back at the bed and began to regret what happened with Candi. He could really use her right now, wanting nothing more than to relieve the tension of a busy day attending meetings with prospective business clients.

    At that very moment, Candi was slipping the night clerk a fifty for giving her a call, letting her know that Zach had returned. “You’re a doll,” she smiled, giving the man a little wave as she hurried upstairs.

    Hanging up the phone, he grabbed the keys off the night table. Maybe a drink or two at the hotel bar and flirting with a pretty woman would cool him off. He was heading out when there was a knock on the door. Who could it be? he wondered, pulling open the door.

    It was Candi. She looked at him shyly, head tilted, through her long lashes. “Hi handsome,” she smiled, leaning on the door frame.

    Zach smiled. The woman had balls. Anyone else would have backed off after last night. “And hello to you too,” he said, looking down at her as he crossed his arms.

    “Where you headed in such a hurry?”

    “Out. I wanted to have a few drinks,” he answered, matter of factly.

    “Oh,” she pouted, allowing her coat to slip open, revealing the gorgeous low cut black dress beneath. “Well, I won’t keep you. I just wanted to come by and apologize for last night..”

    “Oh?” Zach asked, not wanting to make things easy for her.

    “I was stupid to pick up your phone like that,” she sighed, brushing her long blond hair out of her face, and exposing her bruise. Might as well go for pity while she kissed up to the rich hunk. “I didn’t mean to make trouble for you. I just..” she continued, reaching out shyly, for effect, to rush her fingers against his chest, “wanna make you happy.”

    “Hey, shit happens,” Zach shrugged, his resolve starting to soften, catching sight of Candi’s ample cleavage.

    Good. He wasn’t pulling away. That meant she still had a shot. “Let me make it up to you,” she whispered, leaning towards him.

    Zach felt the familiar surge of desire starting to build. He was feeling lonely, not to mention lonely. Why not? he thought, letting his gaze descend down Candi’s body.

    Zach’s silence was making Candi nervous, so she decided to go for broke. “If you want,” she said, easing even closer to Zach, feigning submission, “I’ll do whatever you want. If you want me to go, I’ll go,” she sighed, starting to turn away, but Zach reached out and grabbed her arm.

    “No,” he said, “why don’t we just stay here. Order some room service, have a few drinks..”

    “Whatever you like, handsome,” she smiled, slipping into his arms, making sure she pressed against his groin.

    Candi’s body was irresistible, memories of a specific encounter on top of his desk in his Wave office causing his bulge to throb. Ever the cool player, Zach stepped back, letting Candi pass. Keeping his eyes on Candi, he leaned back onto the door shutting it, watching her as she removed her coat. Dressed in an elegant black dress with a plunging neckline and back, Zach concentrated on maintaining his cavalier demeanor.

    With her back to Zach, Candi pulled off her left earring, dropping it onto the carpet. “Oh, clumsy me!” she giggled, leaning over to retrieve it.

    Zach eyed Candi’s long legs, all the way up to the hint of black black teddy, his hand unconsciously going to his crotch.

    “There,” she smiled sweetly, putting her earring back on. “Much better. So,” she continued, “what’ll it be?”

    “Scotch, rocks,” Zach replied, taking a few steps closer.

    “Perfect,” Candi said, heading for the bar. In true super model fashion, she strutted across the room, working her high heels. “You have such great taste,” she said, licking her red lips, “only the best for you.”

  Zach still remained silent, slipping off his jacket, and taking a seat on the ottoman across from the bed. He eyed Candi hungrily, as she poured two stiff drinks.

    “Oops, almost forgot the ice,” she giggled, reaching for the ice bucket on the bar. “On the rocks,” she said, sucking an ice cube teasingly, “just like you ordered..”

    The thought of Candi’s skillful mouth on his manhood was more than he could take, and in two wide strides he was before her. “Come here,” he growled, turning her around.

    “Whoops, careful, we wouldn’t want to spill the drinks,” she stated, struggling to steady the drinks in her hands as Zach spun her around.

    “Screw the drinks,” Zach said, his voice filled with lust, pressing Candi roughly up against the bar.

    Reaching back, she set the glasses back on the bar as Zach eased his hands up her sides, hiking up her dress, his mouth descending to take possession of her mouth.

    “Off,” he commanded, instructing her to remove her dress.

    Candi happily complied, unzipping the dress and letting it fall onto the floor. Tonight she would let him lead. “Tell me what you want,” she moaned, Zach’s hands pinching her nipples.

    He knew exactly what he wanted. “Quiet,” he demanded, undoing his pants. Backing up, he sat back on the edge of the bed and removed his pants.

    Candi gave Zach a knowing smile as she approached him, kneeling. “Mmm.. my pleasure,” she purred, leaning down between his thighs..

    Back at the bar, things have wound down a bit. A relaxing game of pool, some darts and a quick bit to eat had calmed Jessie down, distracting her from her troubles. Jess reached for some cream for her coffee as the band started to play. “So Phoebs, have you had any more visions?”

    Phoebe decided not to mention the gut feeling she had had earlier causing her to rush over to her friend’s house. Why rattle Jess when she seemed to be doing so much better?

    “No,” Phoebe answered, quickly, “but if you like we can do some more past life regressions.”

    “I dunno,” Jess replied, stirring her coffee.

    “It wouldn’t take long. Besides, after what we found out last time I think it’d be worth while to delve into it further. Of course it’s up to you.”

    “If it’s okay with you Phoebs, I’ll pass this time.” The band played loudly, and even though they were seated across the room by the bar, Jess could feel a headache coming on. “Be right back. I need to make a pit stop in the ladies room.”

    Mitch couldn’t help over hear what Phoebe and Jess had been discussing. “Say Phoebe, Jessie doesn’t really buy into all that stuff, does she?”

    “What stuff?” Phoebe asked, sipping her coffee.

    “You know.. past lives..”

    “Why? What’s wrong with having an open mind? You can take it or leave it, but in my mind it’s better to stay open to different things in life. You never know what you may learn from it.”

    “I guess,” Mitch shrugged, “as far as I’m concerned that hocus pocus, mumbo jumbo stuff is just entertainment.”

    “You should give it a try. If you want I can schedule an appointment and do a reading for you sometime. Maybe I can even prove you wrong.” Phoebe took Mitch’s hand, turning it over and tracing the lines on his palm with her finger. “Your future, your past.. Everyone has questions they’d like to have answered..”

    “We’ll see,” Mitch said, sounding a little uneasy, and pulling his hand away. “Angel, take over for a minute. I’m goin to check on Kelly.”

    "Take all the time you need," stated Angel, "I have a few things I need to finish up down here, so I'll lock up."

    Zach stretched out on the bed and lit a cigarette. Puffing on it, he inhaled deeply, the haze of wild sex still clouding his senses. Candi was in the bathroom freshening up, so he decided to call Jess and let her know what time his flight was getting in tomorrow. Biting hold of the cigarette, he reached for the phone and dialed.

    Zach couldn't help but smile. He had it all - all the women his libido could handle and a beautiful fiancée waiting for him at home. Maybe tomorrow he and Jess could reenact the heat he and Candi had just generated between the sheets. Nothing made him feel as powerful as ravishing Jessie, making her his by bringing her to cataclysmic orgasm. He could hear her moaning his name, writhing beneath him as he pushed her over the edge and beyond.

    Two rings.. three rings.. Zach frowned, clenching his teeth on the cigarette. Jessie still wasn't home. Or was she pulling the typical woman bull shit of playing hard to get by screening her calls?

    "Damn it Jess," he exclaimed aloud.

    Candi heard Zach as she emerged from the bathroom. It was always Jessie, she seethed. Good bitch, she thought, piss him off. The more things Jessie did to piss Zach off the better. For every time she made Zach angry, Candi would overshadow the negativity with positive actions on her part. Stopping in the doorway, Candi listened some more.

    Forget this, Zach thought, hanging up the phone. He would deal with Jess tomorrow.

    Candi strolled back into the room, stark naked, a big smile plastered on her face. Walking over to Zach's side of the bed, she sat down next to him, taking the cigarette he was smoking and taking a long drag off of it.

    "Mmm.. good," Candi smiled, "there's nothing better after sex than a cigarette. Holding the still lit cigarette before her, she paused a minute. "Wait, scratch that. I know something that's a whole lot better."

    Zach was still pouting and laid in the bed next to her, arms crossed. "Oh?" he said, nonchalantly.

    "Mmm hmm," she nodded, resting her hand on his thigh. "You wait right there. I'll be right back."

    Candi knew just the way she could wipe all thoughts of Jessie right out of her lover's mind. Getting her purse, she retrieved a small bottle of the secret weapon she had brought along for just such an occasion - love lotion. A massage with the coconut scented oil on just the right places, with the perfect amount of stroking and Zach would think he had died and gone to a tropical heaven..

    Kelly couldn't contain her happiness, bouncing up and down. "I get to sleep over tonight!" she announced, from her position on the stairs, sneaking a peek at Jessie and Phoebe.

    Mitch couldn't help but smile. His daughter looked so cute in her Winnie the Pooh pj's. "Yes you do sweetie," Mitch chuckled , picking her up, "c'mere! We wouldn't want all those people to see you in your pj's."

    "Why?" Kelly asked, squirming in her father's arms, "they're pretty!"

    "Yes they are," he replied, "but we need to get upstairs so I can read you a bedtime story."

    "Oh yeah," Kelly said, settling down for a moment. Mitch started to ascend the stairs when Kelly called out again. "But Daddy! I want Jessie to tuck me in.."

    Jessie and Phoebe couldn't help overhearing what the little girl had said.

    "I think you're being summoned," Phoebe grinned, motioning to the stairs.

    Jessie nodded, waving to the little girl. "You mind?" she asked, not wanting to be rude.

    "Not at all," stated Phoebe. "You go ahead. It's late and I'm beat. I'm gonna head on home."

    "Okay," Jessie answered, "I'll be going home too as soon as I say goodnight to Kelly. Drive safe, okay?"

    "Will do. Say goodnight to the gang for me.."

    "Please daddy?" Kelly asked, pleading with her eyes.

    "I'm the best tucker inner," Jessie said, appearing at the bottom of the stairs.

    "Better than Mommy?" Kelly asked.

    "Well, I dunno.. I guess we'll soon find out!" she laughed, tickling Kelly, and following Mitch upstairs.

 "It's okay," Sally said, twirling the phone cord with her fingers as she listened, "Mitch wanted me to tell you to just call in tomorrow morning.. yeah.. if you're son's still sick just let us know and we'll get someone to cover your shift again.. okay, bye."

    "Was that Betty?" Angel asked.

    "Yeah, I think her son's still sick. She said she'll let us know tomorrow if she can't come in again."

    "You're putting in some serious overtime.."

    "Yeah, but I don't mind," Sally smiled, gathering some dirty glasses off the nearest table.

    "Can't have you burning out," stated Angel, "call Pam and have her cover for Betty.."

    "No need," answered Sally. Angel grumbled his reply. "We'll see how busy things are tomorrow, okay?" Sally chuckled.


    Nick whistled  happily, following his bandmates out the front door. Angel and Mitch hadn't seemed too concerned about them starting their set late. Then Jessie had arrived unexpectedly, looking miserable that had pleased him no end. The only thing left to make his night a perfect ten would be running into Lynn!

    Back upstairs in the loft, Mitch stood back admiring the way Jessie was interacting with Kelly. Always good with kids, she had his daughter mesmerized, brushing her hair and readying her for bed.

"You have such pretty blonde hair," stated Jessie, brushing Kelly's hair lovingly, "and if you make sure and brush it a hundred times every night it will stay soft and shiny.."

    "Like Mommy's.."

    "Uh huh.."

    Not wanting to intrude on the moment, Mitch sat down on the couch and watched. Jessie had kicked off her shoes and sat down next to Kelly on his bed. Jessie in his bed! his mind screamed.

    "You're Daddy's so nice to let you sleep in his bed," Jessie said, yawning, "it's so nice and big!"

    Mitch had to fight the urge to ask Jess if she wanted to sleep over, remembering how unhappy she had looked when she had arrived at the bar. Not to mention the fact that she was engaged.

    Jessie yawned. Mitch's big soft reminded her just how tired and drained she felt, and Jess decided to finish tucking the little girl in before she accidentally fell asleep.

    "Okay Missie," she said, getting up. "You're hair's brushed, you brushed your teeth, washed your face and already went to the potty right?"

    Kelly nodded.

    "Great, so you're all set to be tucked in," Jessie smiled. Lifting the covers, she folded them over at the top and laid them across Kelly's chest. Smoothing them down, she started to tuck them in around her little body. "All warm and snug like a bug in a rug. Snug enough for you sweetie?"

    "Yeah but.."

    "Uh oh!" Jessie pouted, "what did I forget?"

    Kelly eased her right arm out from under the covers and pointed across the room. "Dollie.."

    "Oh no!" Jessie said, walking over to get the doll. "I'm so sorry Dolly. I didn't mean to leave you out!"

    "Dolly snores," Mitch laughed.

    "She does not!" Kelly scolded, slipping the doll under the covers and hugging her close.

    "There!" Jessie said, retucking the right side. "Now everybody's ready to go to sleep."

    Not everybody, Mitch sighed.

"Goodnight Dollie, goodnight Kelly. Sweet dreams," Jessie said, kissing them both.

    "Daddy forgot too," stated Kelly. "Where's my story?!"

    "I'll be right there angel," Mitch said, quickly, "let me just walk Jessie out."

    "No, no," Jessie said, picking up her purse, "go tell Kelly her story. I'm a big girl," she continued, "besides I'm parked right out front. I'll be fine. Have a good night."

    "Night Jess," Mitch said, watching her leave.

    "Oh no," Sally sighed, seeing the puddle in front of the walk in freezer. "What the heck is wrong now?"

    Hearing what Sally had said, Angel went back to the kitchen to see what was the matter. 

    The bar was empty. Everyone, including the kitchen staff, had gone home. Hiding behind a stack of boxes, Gina waited to make her move. Seeing Jessie leave, she knew her opportunity would come soon.

    "Oh great," Angel said, seeing the mess.

Sally had grabbed a mop and bucket and was busy trying to mop up the puddle of water. "I got it. I'll have it cleaned up in a jiffy.."

    "Didn't Hank check this thing out?" Angel asked, exasperated, walking into the freezer to check it out.

    Gina grinned evily. He sure did. What they didn't know was that she had turned the temperature way down causing some ice to melt, and fiddled with the freezer's lock.

    Angel groaned, noticing some wet boxes in the freezer, and started to go through them to see if the food inside was still frozen.

    "Wait," Sally said, bringing the mop with her to clean up inside the freezer, "let me help you.." Taking one last swipe behind the door, she joined Angel.

    Creeping out from her hiding place, Gina slowly started to push the door until it eased shut with a click..

Copyright © 1998 Susana Audrain 
and Richard Tingle All rights reserved, which includes the right to reproduce this novel or portions thereof in any form whatsoever except as provided by the U.S. Copyright Law.

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