Authors: Carmen Faye
When I was out in the road again, I realized what I’d just done. I’d said yes to something I wasn’t going to be able to do without Alex. And I needed her to teach me how to play this game the right way if I wanted to keep my promise, my reputation, and my money.
I took a deep breath, dialed her number, and waited for her to pick up.
She wasn’t answering her phone. I needed her. I needed her to teach me how to play this damn game so that I could actually take part in a high-stakes game. I was in over my head, and this had all been my own fault. Not just because this so-called scam, which was starting to feel like less and less of a scam on my part, was my idea, but also because I’d gotten mixed up with people I didn’t know well enough.
I’d assumed I knew what to expect because I knew the Stone Cold Club well enough. I assumed that being part of the club would have prepared me for being part of anything else.
I hadn’t considered that I’d been in a favorable position with the Stone Cold Club, and I hadn’t once imagined that I wasn’t good enough to play this game.
They’d sprung me from prison. Me instead of Emmett. I thought that meant I was good enough to make anything work. I’d just realized that all it meant was that Emmett never had been.
She still didn’t answer the phone. How many times had I rung her now? Enough to sound like a stalker. Dammit. I had to make another plan to find her. I didn’t know the city; I didn’t know anyone in town; I didn’t know where I was even going to start looking for her.
A black BMW pulled up next to me. It had tinted windows, and my first reaction was to start running. Ominous cars with tinted windows usually had a gun barrel on the other end of it and bullseye painted on the back of my head.
The window slowly rolled down, and I would have figured it was too late if hadn’t been for the fact that it was the driver’s window, not the back window. It wasn’t a rule that they were going to kill me from the back window, but it was a good rule of thumb.
Ted, whose surname I never found out, sat staring out at me with a grin like we were the best of friends. And there was no one in L.A. that I was happier to see right then.
“Teddy, my man,” I said. “Brilliant to see a familiar face.”
He chuckled and gestured his head to the passenger seat next to him. I didn’t hesitate. I walked over to the passenger side, opened the door, and slid into the leather seats. The car was nice, as far as cars went, but it wasn’t top of the line.
Still, it was a good set of wheels.
“So, I hear you’ve been getting into trouble,” Ted said. He pulled into traffic and crawled down the road like a snail. This ride was all about the image and not about the speed.
“Where did you hear that?”
Ted shrugged, both hands on the wheel, as if he was still learning how to drive. “I have my contacts,” he said. “You know I know the right people.”
I wouldn’t have thought it when I looked at him. Ted looked like he was trying hard to be cool, and he managed most of the time, but now and then, small things slipped through that gave him away. Still, if he’d heard it on some kind of gossip mill, it meant that he did have contacts.
“I’m wondering then, if you’ve got so many contacts, if you can help me. I’m looking for someone.”
Ted got a look on his face that was a mix between smugness and pride. I doubted a lot of people leaned on him if they wanted info.
“You can’t ask for a favor without owing me one,” he said. Right. We were going to play big boy games.
“Of course,” I said. Because honestly, how difficult could it be to give Ted something? He didn’t really look like the demanding type.
“I’m looking for Alexandra. Do you have an address for me, somewhere I can find her during the day?”
I looked out the window. The city was bustling, cars and people everywhere. There was a crowd on the opposite corner from us, people reaching up with phones to take a picture, and I was guessing it was a celebrity. Ted craned his neck to see, like sitting up straighter in his seat was going to make a difference.
Once he got over the excitement that swept through all the onlookers, Ted whistled through his teeth. “That’s a tall order. It’s gonna cost ya.”
I looked at him. “What will it cost me?”
“I don’t know…”
“I can take anyone out for you. Who do you want me to take care of?”
Ted’s eyes widened, and when he turned his face to me, he’d gone pale.
“It’s okay,” he said. I chuckled. I wasn’t a killer. Ted didn’t look like the kind of guy who would follow through on an offer like that. “I’m fucking with you,” I said, and Ted visibly relaxed. “Seriously, though, you say the word, and I’ll make it happen. A trade.”
Ted shook his head. Maybe he was tired of playing the macho game, considering that he’d lost.
“She lives at the foot of the hills in a house that was one of the first in the city. Sunder, is her surname. Alexandra Sunder.”
“Sunder,” I said, repeating the surname to myself.
“And you won’t find her in the phone book.”
I doubted I would.
“Thanks, man,” I said to Ted, holding up my fist so he could fist pump me. He didn’t leave me hanging, and we had a little bro moment.
“What do you need to see her for?” Ted asked. I shrugged. I wasn’t going to tell him the truth. No way in hell. He might have had his contacts finding information about things that had happened, but I doubted he was ready to get involved with something like this.
“I…uh… owe her money,” I said. Solid finish. Nice.
Ted pulled a face and stepped on the brake to slow down for the cars in front of him. There was traffic everywhere, and it was nowhere near peak hour.
“Bad start, pal. You don’t want to owe anyone money around these parts.”
No shit. I’d learned that too late. That information would have been great three days ago, but then again, I wouldn’t have taken it three days ago. I only ever believed that someone was dangerous when they tried to shoot me in the face. I was stubborn that way.
Stubborn or stupid, depending on whom you spoke to about it.
“You’re a real life saver,” I said to Ted. I opened the door at the traffic light and stepped into the road.
“I’ll see you around,” Ted said to me. “If you’re at the Harlan, look me up. That’s my spot.”
I nodded, waved him goodbye, and walked across the road while the light was red to get back to the pavement.
The hills were quite some distance away, but I didn’t want Ted to drive me there. There was only so much conversation I wanted to have with the guy. He asked questions. I didn’t like questions. It meant I had a lot to avoid, and that got harder and harder the more time you spent with someone.
I flagged a taxi and got in, giving him an area.
?” the Mexican cabby asked me.
“I don’t know. Get me in the area, and I’ll do the rest,” I said. The guy nodded and put his foot on the pedal, driving a hell of a lot faster than Ted did and going through more yellow lights than I could count. By the time I was in the area, I was relieved to be on solid ground again, my knees wobbly.
I paid the guy, and he drove off. I half imagined his tires would be squealing.
I looked around. The area was definitely older than most, downtown L.A. being a lot more modern and with the times. The houses all looked like they’d been built fifty years ago, maybe more, but none of them really stood out to me.
I was going out on a limb here, looking for a woman I hardly knew, in a house with hardly any description. I walked the streets for about an hour when I saw it. There was no mistaking that this house could be the one Ted, whose surname I still didn’t know, had been talking about. The house looked as if it had sat down on itself, with a low roof and a wrap-around porch. This house was a mix of styles, from Victorian to Tudor to downright confused.
I walked up the path, noting the colorful flowers in beds on both sides. I wondered if Alex had a gardener, or if she did this kind of thing herself.
When I knocked on the door, it took two minutes before I heard footsteps, the burglar chain, and then the door opened.
Alex stood in front of me with an apron around her waist and flour on her hands.
“You know, that looks like heroine,” I said.
“You know, how the fuck did you find my house?”
Well, wasn’t that the most elegant greeting?
“Can I come in?” I asked.
“I know you don’t have a very good reason to trust me, but I just got a call from the Crucifix Six, and they want me in a high-stakes game this weekend. I don’t know what I’m doing. I need you to teach me how to play so that we’ll have any winnings at all to speak of.”
She folded her arms, not caring that her flour hands left white marks on the clothes that showed around the edges of the apron.
“Yeah, sure,” she said. “I’ll show you how this works. But you better give me something in return. I’m not losing more than I already have.”
I looked around me, up and down the road, as if it would matter if someone saw me here.
“I don’t have much to offer if I have to be honest,” I said. “I can show you some tricks, sleight of hand and pickpocketing.”
I shrugged. “I was cat burglar before my career started.”
She chuckled. Her smile changed her whole face, lit it up like a sunrise, and her eyes shimmered with flecks of gold that were otherwise dormant.
“I should have known you were a clown,” she said. I had the feeling it was an insult, but if that was what an insult sounded like, with her tone of voice and those sharp eyes on me, she could insult me any day.
“Close the door and chain it behind you,” she said, turning and walking into the house without waiting for me. I stepped inside and did as she asked.
I had to give it to him. Rip was charming. He knew just what to say and when to say it. I knew that it was part of his game. He made everyone like him, especially women, and then he made his moves when no one was looking.
I knew this. And I still fell for it. There was something about his black hair and his piercing blue eyes that just fascinated me. I was glad I hadn’t told him to leave when he’d appeared on my porch. I still didn’t know how he’d found me.
He spent almost every day at my place. He had a room at a motel that he went back to because I wasn’t planning on hosting a sleepover, but he was on my doorstep every morning.
I taught him how to count cards, and I taught him how to work Texas Hold’em so that he didn’t have to panic once Tucci put him on the table. He was doing okay. With a little practice, he could go far.
In return, he taught me some sleight of hand tricks that could come in handy in my own games. I knew how to win, and I walked away with cash in my pocket most of the time, but it was never a bad thing to add to my skillset.
He also taught me how to pickpocket.
interested in learning. Part of me had always liked the idea of taking what wasn’t mine and getting away with it. I used to be a little rebel when I was growing up, and it was right up my alley.
We were expected to be at Lady Luck on Saturday. The casino wasn’t one I often visited, and I knew very little about the place or the regulars. It was a good thing. I didn’t want to run into anyone I knew, and it was going to be good that no one knew Rip either. When we were done on Friday, he started putting his leather jacket back on. He always wore it, and it worked with his look.
He looked badass, but not like those intimidating bikers. He looked bad in a good way. An attractive way.
“Do you want to grab carryout for dinner?” I asked.
He looked up at me popping up his collar, questions in his eyes.
I shrugged. My home had only been open to him during business hours until now.
“Sure. I don’t feel like cooking or eating alone tonight.”
“Yeah,” he said with one side of his mouth cocked up in a lopsided grin. “I could eat.”
I smiled and went to get my coat. The weather was starting to turn, summer was draining away, giving into fall. We walked to the Chinese restaurant on the corner. I ordered my usual, and Rip added on some spring rolls and pineapple chicken.
When we got home, I dished it up into normal plates because eating out of cartons just wasn’t my style.
“I have beer in the fridge,” I said.
“You drink beer?” he asked.
“No, I prefer wine. I just have it in case.”
He nodded, his eyes sparkling with a smile he was hiding. He opened the fridge and got himself a beer, cracking it open with a hiss. He took a long sip and then sighed.
“God, a cold one is just what I needed,” he said and leaned against the counter with his hip.
“Pour me some wine, will you?” I asked. He opened and closed cupboards, finding the bottle and a wine glass and pouring the glass half full, the way that it was supposed to be.
“Wine and Chinese food,” he said. I shrugged.
“Always time for wine.”
We walked to the family room, each with a plate and a drink.
“I think this is the first time you and I are hanging out socially,” Rip said.
I sipped my wine. “Don’t get used to it,” I said. But I liked it.
We ate and spoke about stupid things. I found out about his alter ego, Ben Reeker. He sat through my pathetic childhood and didn’t ask any questions when I was bitter about my sister. More beers, more wine and more talking, and before I knew it, it was past midnight. I put my empty wine glass next to the bottle that only had about an inch of wine left in it. There were six beer bottles on the table, and Rip sucked the last of his seventh down with tipsy style.
“It’s late, I should get to bed,” I said.
“God, it’s already past midnight.”
He stood up and reached for his jacket again. I watched his arm as he did. His bicep strained against the t-shirt he was wearing. I hadn’t noticed how built he was before. He was actually in really good shape.
I got up too and stretched. Somewhere during the night, I’d changed into baggy pajama pants and a tank top instead of the jeans and blouse I’d been wearing. I was ready for bed, and I was tired.
“Tomorrow is the big day,” I said. Rip turned to me, jacket in hand. He stood very close to me, and I was aware of the heat rolling off his body. “Are you nervous?”
He shook his head. “I’m pretty sure you’ve got me covered with everything you showed me. We’ll be fine.”
“Besides, with someone like you at my side, what can go wrong?”
It was a flirt line, and I knew it. I blushed nevertheless. Maybe it was the wine in my system that had let me drop my guard. Maybe it was the fact that the time we’d spent together had been nice. Rip was a nice guy, not nearly as much of an asshole as I was set to believe in the beginning.
I don’t know where it changed from normal talking to something more, but the atmosphere was suddenly thicker, and I took a deep breath to make sure I could still get air into my lungs. Rip stepped closer to me, so close that our chests almost touched, and I didn’t step away. He looked at me, and I wasn’t sure what I saw in his face, but his pupils were dilated, mouth slightly parted, and his eyes slid down to my lips.
I kept my eyes trained on his. They’d become an electric blue, and when he looked at me, it felt like he physically touched me.
I was the one who inched my face closer to his. Not all the way so that I was the one making the first move, but enough to let him know what I wanted. He took the hint. I didn’t have to ask twice. He closed the small distance between us, pressing his lips against mine.
He tasted of beer, and I could smell the cologne he wore on his skin. Day old cologne, something he’d put on that morning.
He put his hands on my cheeks, cupping my face, and pushed his tongue into my mouth. I let him.
His tongue chased around mine for a short while, and then he closed the gap between our bodies, completely pressing up against me with the length of his body so that there was no space between us. His body was hard and muscled under all those clothes. I wasn’t sure if it was because of all his moving around, or if he trained when he wasn’t with me, but his body felt good against mine.
As if he knew what I was thinking, his hand moved from my cheek to the small of my back, and he pulled me even tighter against him. I sighed into his mouth. He ran his other hand into my hair and held a handful loosely against my scalp, not hurting me at all.
We’d been kissing for a while when he pulled me onto the couch, him underneath so that I lay mostly on top of him, able to call the shots. If I wanted to stop, I could get off him, and it wouldn’t be awkward at all. I didn’t want to stop though. I wanted to keep going. My body was suddenly on fire, heat pooling between my legs, and I wanted more of him against me, with no clothes as a barrier between us.
He pushed his hand under my shirt and his skin was on mine on my back. His hands were large and warm, and the skin was rough as if he did physical labor. He stroked his hand up and down, his other hand on my hip. I moved against him in the same rhythm as he was stroking me, slowly grinding against him, giving him a part of my body already.
I could feel him in his pants. He was hard and ready for me, pressing against my lower stomach and pubic bone. I ground against him, feeling his lust build up at the same time mine did.
I was the one who broke the kiss and got off him. His eyes followed me. I took his hand and pulled on it so that he would get up. I didn’t say anything; it felt like words were going to ruin it. I just tugged him with me, and he followed me. I led him to the bedroom and let go of his hand to close the curtains in front of the window. He stood in the middle of my bedroom, but instead of looking around he was watching me. His eyes followed me—like a predator tracking its prey.
He came to me by the window when I turned. He kissed me again, and his hands slipped under my tank top. His hand slid up to my breasts, and he cupped his hands over the bra I was still wearing despite the fact that I wore I pajamas. His mouth was still on mine and I arched my body, pushing my breasts into his hands. His skin was searing hot even though the bra material.
I returned the favor, pushing my hands underneath his shirt, too. I felt his muscles, the ridges where the one stopped and the next started, and it rippled under my hands when he moved. Under all that leather, he was hot as hell. He’d just been hiding it.
He pulled my shirt over my head. I lifted my arms to make it easier and stood in my bra in front of him. He looked at me, as if he hadn’t seen a woman before, and his pupils dilated even more until the ice blue of his eyes was just a thin rim around the black pupil.
I retrieved my hands from his shirt and undid my own bra, letting it fall to the floor. My body was in good shape. My nipples tightened in the cold air of the room. Rip pulled his shirt off, and it joined my tank on the floor. One for one.
He stepped closer to me and his skin on mine was hot.
I reached for his belt and unbuckled it, working his jeans down his legs. I left the boxers for now. He was rock hard, straining against the fabric, reaching out for me even before we’d gotten around to the real business.
Rip guided me backward until the back of my legs hit the mattress. Then he let me lay down, and he crawled over me. He took one breast in his hand, and lowered his face to the other, taking my nipple into his mouth. He sucked on it slowly and sensually, and I moaned, tipping my head back. The heat between my legs turned into an urge, and I was wet for him, ready for him to take me.
He didn’t do it yet though. I slid his hand over my stomach and down to my pants, and he pushed them underneath the elastic. He ended up right where I wanted him, pushing his fingers into my slit. When he flicked a finger over my clit, I shuddered and gasped.
He groaned when he pushed his fingers into me.
“God, you’re wet,” he said against my breast. I answered with another moan.
He pushed his fingers into me a couple of times more, and then it was as if he’d had enough of this fooling around. He pulled his own boxers off, and he sprung free, bobbing. He was thick, thicker than I expected, and the tip was glistening with anticipation. I reached down and palmed his thick flesh, moving my hand up and down, feeling him.
He pulled my pants down, and I lifted my ankles so he could pull them off. Then I spread my legs, letting him position himself between them. He braced himself with his hands on either side of my face and pushed his tip against my entrance.
I gasped. A shudder travelled through my body.
Rip inched into me, bit by bit, letting my body yield and adjust to him. He was big, but his urgency had dwindled down to a calm patience, as if he wanted to do it right.
He pushed in a little, then slipped out again, but not far enough to leave my body. Then he inched in deeper, and slipped out again, repeating the process until my body was open and he filled me up, pushing in all the way to the hilt. I gasped from the feel of him inside of me, the size, the pressure.
It was delicious.
Rip started moving. In and out. The friction was erotic, making me moan. My body responded to his, throwing off more heat and producing more lubrication until he slid in and out of me with ease.
I wrapped my arms around his neck, bringing our bodies closer together. He lay on me with half his weight and upped his pace, pushing into me and pulling out again with more force. My body went numb, the sensation pulling me in. I closed my eyes and concentrated on the feel of him.