Note from Susan
This is the scene in Bend the Rules in which Crash takes Mary to The Oasis. They’re hunting the mysterious Hector. In the book, it’s from Crash Coolidge’s point-of-view, but here, it’s seen from Mary’s. Unlike the book, we follow them into the room Crash rents behind The Oasis.
Mary tried not to judge the crowded, dimly lit bar too harshly. Seated with Crash at a small wooden table, she stared up at throngs of enormous, muscled, tattooed bikers, some of whom escorted equally muscled and tattooed women. Beside her, Crash bent his golden head over a plastic menu. His arm muscles corded deliciously as he flipped it over. He looked up as if sensing her gaze and smiled one of his rare smiles. “Are you hungry, Sugar?”
“Yes.” She moistened her lips.
“Me too.” But his blue eyes narrowed on her mouth as if he were hungry for more than the burger-and-fry options on the plastic menu. She shifted in her seat, suddenly restless. One look from him and—
Their server appeared beside their table as suddenly as she had vanished earlier. Her black leather corset was an inch lower than earlier, perilously close to giving up on its token effort to constrain her breasts. Mary itched to hoist it higher. “Ready?” The server’s pen hovered over a notepad. The word Powerhouse and a telephone number were scribbled on a grimy corner. Powerhouse was obviously a biker name. It was unprofessional to date people from your workplace. Technically, she had met Crash at work, but he was a consultant. A criminal consultant.
“Do you need more time with the menu?” the half-dressed server asked Crash, finishing with a teasing pout. Mary frowned. The strumpet leaned forward, giving Crash an eyeful of her barely contained breasts.
“Sugar?” Crash lifted his menu in an echo of his question.
The server finally deigned to notice Mary. Her gaze judged the modest neckline of Mary’s orange-flower patterned blouse. “You need more time with the menu, Sugar?” the server asked with more than a hint of insolence.
“A choice between fries or onion rings isn’t a menu,” Mary said. “Those are side dishes. A menu implies an entrée choice, but all you’re offering is a burger with a choice between two sides.” She pushed a damp curl off her forehead. It was too warm in here. Humidity turned her hair into a frizzy mop.
“I can leave off the pickle and tomato,” the server said with an impatient movement that made her breasts quiver like two creamy puddings.
Mary undid a button on her blouse and pulled her shoulders back. “Regardless of whether or not you remove the pickle and tomato, it’s still only a burger. One item doesn’t make a menu.” She turned to Crash for support.
He scratched his jaw. “We’ll have two burgers and one order of onion rings and one order of fries.”
His hand, under the cover of the table, slid between her thighs. She wore cotton capri pants, but that intimate caress through the thin fabric fused her thoughts instantly into a lustful tangle.
“Drinks?” the server said. “We only have beer. But we got four kinds. Is that a drinks menu?” Her forehead wrinkled.
Crash winced. Mary was about to put the server in her place when Crash’s hand slid higher, disordering her thoughts instantly. “Bud. Two,” he said quickly, but the server seemed to be waiting for some kind of acknowledgment from Mary. When she finally managed a nod, the woman departed.
Mary almost let her thighs fall open, but a passing biker bumped their table, bringing her to her senses. She clamped her thighs shut, inadvertently locking Crash’s hand tight against her. Not here. Not in public.
He leaned sideways and kissed her hard and quick, his hand cupping her intimately. She wanted him. Here. On the table. Shamelessly. She pulled her mouth from his. She shouldn’t do—
His mouth took hers again, weakening her resolve.
“Not here,” she said with a gasp, feeling her curls bounce as she jerked her head back.
“According to who?” he said, but his hand retreated to her knee.
“Whom. According to common decency.” She couldn’t stop looking at his mouth, thinking about the stroke of his tongue. How it had felt—
“I guess sex in public is out of the question?” Crash grinned.
“We’ll work our way up to it, Sugar.” He laughed.
He eroded her morals the way the sea eroded cliffs, each wave loosening and tugging until the rock was scoured to nothing but sand. When had she become the kind of woman who spread her thighs beneath a bar table like a wanton for her date? This wasn’t even a proper date. “We need to focus on our mission. I don’t think this qualifies as a date—“
“No, you need a restaurant with a proper menu for it to qualify as a date. We’re here to find Tattoo John, who will help us find Hector, who, in turn, will help us find Gonzales. What does Tattoo John look like?” Mary said, scanning the crowd. “I’m guessing he’s tattooed.”
“Most men here are tattooed because it’s a biker bar. Tattoo John is about my height. Dark. Full beard. Mid-thirties. Sleeve tattoo. Right arm. Showy dragons.”
“Quite a few of the men fit that physical description, but they’re wearing long-sleeved t-shirts, so I can’t see their arms.” Her voice dropped to a hiss, “Crash, that man over there has a pearl-handled pistol stuck in his waistband. Is that allowed? They have a No Colors No Weapons sign above the bar.”
Crash kissed her quickly, but this time, it was a reassuring caress. “Nobody here is likely to cause trouble,” he said.
“Consequences. The men here don’t back down. Bite’s worse than their bark, you could say.”
“This wasn’t quite what I pictured when you said you were living at the back of a bar. I was thinking faux Irish with shamrocks, or faux Tudor with cross-beams and whitewash, or both.” Her gaze strafed the bar.
“You’re safe with me.”
“I know that.” She clutched his forearm. “Dear heaven, that woman has Property Of Zeke sewn on the back of her leather jacket. I surmise that Zeke — I’ve seen less arm hair on silverback gorillas on the National Geographic channel — is the man with his tongue down her throat. With that kind of blatant ownership display, I’m not sure why she needs to sew anything on the back of her jacket. If you were still a biker, would you expect me to wear a jacket like that?”
He tilted his head as if picturing her in a biker jacket. “It’s respectful,” he said.
Now was as good a time as any to discuss male ownership of vaginas and the patriarchy in—
“But I like you in those clothes. I think you’re prettier than spring, Sugar.”
“Oh.” She clasped his nape with both hands and pulled him in for an open-mouthed kiss. His tongue tangled with hers.
“Two Buds, two burgers, two sides,” the server said, interrupting their lustful groping. Mary disengaged from Crash in a leisurely fashion and gave the server a triumphant look. Crash thought she was prettier than spring.
The server offloaded their food and drinks from a red plastic tray before she winked at Mary. “One of the rooms in the back just freed up,” she said.
Crash pulled a pile of money from his wallet. He slapped it onto the tray. “Go. Keep the change.”
“Rooms?” Mary echoed, ignoring the departing server. “I know you rent a room here, but that sounded as if she were suggesting—“
“Hey, see the guy at the bar? Denim jacket. He owns the place. He’ll know something about Tattoo John. I won’t be long. You start on the food Sugar. The fries look good.” Crash left hurriedly. Mary ate a fry but kept him in view. The fries were good. Salty. Crisp.
At the bar, a long battle-scarred strip of wood lined with equally battle-scarred men, Crash greeted a dark-haired man in a denim jacket. The hem was frayed. The two men had a brief, animated conversation before Crash turned his head to check on her.
She smiled and waved. Crash had fled their table directly after the server mentioned the rooms in the back of the bar. Why?
Crash smiled and waved at her. His thuggish companion gave him a startled look. Would he look less surprised if she had her breasts pushed up in a leather corset? Cup-size for cup-size, she was confident there wasn’t another woman in this establishment who could compete with her. She teased open another button on her blouse and chomped another fry.
Crash and his friend were deep in conversation again. The other man lifted his beer from the bar top and drank deeply as if signaling the end of the interaction. Were they any closer to finding the mysterious Hector?
Crash turned and gestured at her. An imperious, summoning gesture. Normally, she wouldn’t respond to an arrogant, patriarchal gesture, but her curiosity overcame her objections. Perhaps Crash needed her opinion about a clue.
At the bar, Crash put his arm around her and drew her close. “Crash, it’s rude to gesture at me like that and expect me to scurry over. I’m your date, not some lackey.” She gave his companion a polite smile. His eyes were as blue as Crash’s but not nearly as arresting.
Crash’s brow furrowed. “This is a date? For the love of— make up your mind, Sugar.”
“No, it’s not a proper date,” she said, lowering her voice to keep their conversation private from the other man. “We’ve discussed that… a proper date would be at a place with a proper menu. Regardless, it’s not polite to summon me like a server. And I’m still curious about the rooms behind the bar. I don’t—”
“This is Voodoo.” Crash nodded at his companion. “He owns the place.”
“Voodoo?” She gasped. When she had eavesdropped on Rocco and Jones, they had mentioned voodoo. She hadn’t known that Voodoo was a person.
Voodoo stared at her. “Do I know you? I don’t get that reaction from people I don’t know.”
“He tried to kill you, Crash,” she said, not taking her eyes off the other man. “I overheard Rocco and Jones talking about it.” The conversation she had eavesdropped on had not made any sense until now.
“Yeah, I know,” Crash said, patting her back.
“You know?” Mary echoed. “You don’t mind?” How could she fit into his world when the rules made no sense?
Voodoo spoke, “He paid me back, put me in hospital—“
“You kept Minnie safe from your men, so I let you live,” Crash said.
They nodded their mutual understanding of how things worked.
“And I’m the crazy one?” Mary said, barely audible. She held her hand out to Voodoo. “I’m getting used to meeting men without proper names. Why are you called Voodoo?”
Voodoo took her hand and held it carefully in both of his as if unsure what to do with it. “My grandmother was Cajun. The way she told it, her people were thrown out of Acadia in the seventeen hundreds. Le Grand Dérangement. Came here, via Haiti.”
“I didn’t know that,” Crash said. “I heard it was because of pins. In eyes, like a voodoo doll, but not a doll.”
Voodoo shrugged. “That too.”
Mary couldn’t think of a polite rejoinder.
“Makes me fucking squeamish to think about it,” Crash said. “Sugar, Voodoo here knows something about Hector’s tattoo, but he doesn’t believe I won’t harm Hector if I find him.”
“If he says he won’t, he won’t,” Mary said, looking up at Crash.
“Been a long time since somebody looked at me like that, Crash.” Voodoo’s mouth twisted. “Hector’s kid was called Rae. I remember because the ink was a sun with rays coming out of it. But it was spelled funny: R—A—E.”
“That’s a girl’s name,” Mary said.
“Any dates in the ink?” Crash said.
“The month of May, maybe? No. There were spring flowers around the name. The month was April. I don’t recall the year.”
Crash signaled the bartender to get Voodoo another beer and set money on the bar top to pay for it. “Much obliged.” He clapped Voodoo on the shoulder and turned away, tucking her under his arm so she wouldn’t be jostled.
“Bye, Voodoo,” she called and waved. Voodoo raised a hand and did the same back. He wasn’t so bad, after all. For a killer.
They returned to their table and burgers. Crash held her chair out for her. “We need help to find Hector,” Mary said. “We have enough details about Hector’s daughter to trace her and then him to an address, but we don’t have access to city birth records. And we’re assuming Rae was born locally.”
“We need a nerd with a computer,” Crash said, taking the seat beside her. Their burgers smelled delicious.
“Ronald. Don’t call him a nerd. He won’t help because the Vitruvius project has been shut down.”
“I have a contact in Military Intelligence. He’ll find Hector for me if I owe him a favor.”
She picked up a fry with her fingers. “The rooms in the back are there for casual sex, aren’t they?” she said, eating her fry one delicate bite at a time. “So Zeke and his ilk can have sex?”
“Yeah.” Crash tore a chunk out of his burger and chewed, looking unhappy.
This would be a good time to discuss the patriarchy, but she didn’t want to. She wanted something else. She finished her fry. “Some might find that shocking, however, I find the notion strangely arousing.”
Crash swallowed and coughed as his chunk of burger lodged in his craw. He gulped beer and swallowed.
“These fries are sooo good,” she said. “At least Voodoo has a great cook. Eat up, darling Crash. I plan to make Voodoo a list of comprehensive improvements as a thank you, so I should at least try out your room with you. Mr. Blain is kindly watching Oscar…”
Crash gave her a heated look. “The sheets are clean.”
She licked the salt from her fingers. Then, under the table, her hand settled high on his thigh and stroked upward along rough denim. “That will do nicely.” She cupped him. His body responded instantly. She was a fast learner.
He said something under his breath. The f-word, she thought, but decided not to follow up on it. It encapsulated what she intended to do with him as soon as she finished these unexpectedly delicious fries.
Crash had rushed her through her meal and into the back of the bar. She didn’t mind. He hustled her through a plain door into a small room and closed it behind them, instantly muffling the noise from the bar. She looked about her. Her prison cell had had more warmth and ambiance than this rented space.
“At least everything matches,” she said brightly. Everything was brown. A brown blanket covered a narrow bed. Thin, brown curtains almost met across a night-black window. A dark-wood desk was pushed against the opposite wall. A matching cupboard loomed beside it. The cupboard door was ajar, revealing three empty, white hangers.
“All the comforts of home,” Crash said, locking the door.
“If you grew up in a prison camp.” She stood on the only square of carpet in the room, a meager brown runner next to the bed. The rest of the floor was dark, scuffed wood.
He looked around the room as if trying to see it through her eyes. “It looks like my home. Snake wasn’t one for wasting money on furnishings. Except for Minnie. We made her room nice. Maybe this isn’t pretty like your bedroom, but it sure looks prettier with you in it, Sugar.” He stripped his jacket off and tossed it onto the desk. It fell beside an old-fashioned radio. His white t-shirt skimmed muscle.
“My parents had a radio just like that,” she said, suddenly shy. This was still new.
“They did?” He pulled his t-shirt over his head and dropped it on top of his jacket. His tattoos were savage skin paintings.
“They would dance, sometimes,” she said, but her thoughts were on his bare skin. She stepped out of her shoes. The carpet runner was rough and scratchy underfoot. She hoped it was clean.
“What kind of dancing?”
“What?” She traced a skull on his chest.
He laughed. “Your parents, Sugar. What kind of dancing did they do?”
“Slow dancing. Dad would twirl Mom.” She shrugged. “He made her laugh.”
He pulled his belt from its loops and threw it over his shoulder. It hit the wall and clattered to the ground. His jeans dropped low on his hips.
She swallowed. His boots and socks ended up in a messy pile. He stalked toward her, barefoot and bare-chested. She held her breath. Then he reached past her. She turned. He bent over the desk. Her fingers skimmed the long muscles of his back. She couldn’t not touch him. Noise crackled from the radio as he twirled the large knob on the front. Then, it became music. Soft and slow and sweet. He straightened and held out his hand. “Dance with me.” His eyes were so blue. And warm.
She scrunched her toes into the scratchy carpet. “I’ll stand on your feet.”
“Those are tiny feet. I reckon I’ll live.” He held his arms wide.
“I warned you.” She moved into his arms.
He drew her close. “Someone should have warned me about you.” It was a whisper. His lips brushed her ear.
She rested her head against his bare chest as they swayed together. She could manage this. She trod on his bare foot. “Sorry.” She pressed a kiss to his chest. He laughed. She stood on his other foot. “Oh dear, maybe we shouldn’t—“
He hushed her. “Get ready, I’m going to twirl you.”
She nodded. He took her hand and held it high so she could spin slowly. His other hand guided her hips, keeping her upright. It was magical. The drab room disappeared. All she could see was his laughing face. His warm blue eyes.
“And again,” he said.
“Again,” she agreed, standing on his foot. “Sorry.”
“It’s like being brushed by a butterfly. A pretty butterfly in sunshine clothes.”
He liked her orange capris and flower-spattered blouse. She might not fit in at The Oasis, but she fit him. He reeled her back into his arms for another breath-stealing and wit-addling kiss. She responded in kind. “I wanted you to keep touching me under the table,” she confessed when he released her.
His smile vanished. He drew in a breath as uneven as hers. The slow music became a slumbrous background chorus.
Crash unbuttoned her blouse, his nimble fingers making quick work of the pearly fastenings. It fell to the floor. She should pick it up and fold it properly, but his thumbs brushed her nipples — back and forth, back and forth — through the thin fabric of her bra, short-circuiting her brain. Her nipples puckered, aching to be touched more. “I’ve been thinking about this — about you — all day,” he said.
“Yes.” She nodded even though she knew she wasn’t making sense.
“You been thinking about me too, Sugar?”
“Want to tell me what you’ve been thinking?” Her bra joined her blouse on the floor.
“You’re still shy with me?“ His hands cupped her full breasts.
She nodded. Shivered.
“I like it. Those yes-no-yes looks you give me. The way your cheeks color but your mouth is swollen. Wet.”
“I’m wet,” she whispered and then felt herself blush.
His irises were mere blue rims around dilated pupils. His hand circled her nape to hold her in place for a long kiss. Mary stood on tiptoe, wrapped her arms around his neck, and sunk into him and his kiss, pressing her bare breasts to his tattooed chest. She loved the taste and feel of him. Loved—
“You make me want to be gentle, Sugar.”
She didn’t think she wanted him to be gentle tonight. Her voice was husky. “What would you do if we were on a first date and—“
“This is a date?” He smiled.
“Dinner and dancing?” She rubbed her bare breasts against his bare chest. “It’s definitely a date.”
He seemed mesmerized by her. “You started to ask me what I would do if we were on a first date and… and what, Sugar?”
“What would you do if we had recently met at the office? Respectably. No heists. No clues. And you brought me to The Oasis for our first date,” she said in a breathy rush. “When the server told us there was an available room, you hustled me back here. And locked the door. What would you do next?” Her gaze held his as she slid her palm along his abdominal muscles into his jeans. “Would you be… gentle?”
Dark eyelashes shuttered his eyes briefly. “What would I do?” he said, his voice harsh. His eyelids lifted to reveal blue eyes brilliant with desire. “I’d pick you up and fuck you hard against that closed door.”
“Oh.” In his jeans, her hand closed on his hard length. “Oh, yes, please.”