Note from Susan
The following scene happens after Rocco and Eva’s barbecue. I can’t remember why I cut it — I don’t think it was pulling its weight! Then, because I thought I could use it as a bonus for my lovely readers, I noodled with it a bit. It improved so much that I was sorry I hadn’t put it in the book. Anyhow, I’m glad it found a home as a book bonus!
By midnight, most of Rocco’s guests had left. He sat at a patio table with Big Mike and Crash. The steel barbecue grills had cooled, but the scent of charred meat lingered. Eva, Mary and Minnie sat on a nearby L-shaped sectional. It butted up against the balcony railing. The glow of the city lights hinted at the thirty-story drop beyond.
Big Mike made a lip-smacking noise. Having finished the ribs, he was working his way through the remainder of the chicken. A pile of stripped-bare bones lay on the platter in front of him. He was a surprisingly dainty eater for a giant. Slouched in the seat opposite, Crash stared up at the starry sky beyond the glowing paper lanterns. He nursed a beer bottle. A breeze stirred the paper tails Eva had glued to each lantern. Each trailing tail was a string of folded-paper cranes.
“A thousand folded paper cranes gets you one wish,” Crash said, fingering the tail nearest him.
Big Mike’s right eyebrow moved fractionally, signaling surprise.
“Eva folded the paper birds,” Rocco said. “She’s good with her hands.” He had a sudden image of her hands stroking him. Very good with her hands. He toasted the stars beyond the lanterns. “What would you wish for?” Rocco asked Crash, surprising himself. He hadn’t forgiven Mary’s psychotic mate for his bruised ribs yet.
Female laughter sounded. Eva had shucked her shoes and curled up on the couch at right angles to Minnie and Mary. Jason was tucked up against her, fast asleep. Her fingers stroked absentmindedly through his boy’s hair. She was smiling, her snub nose crinkling. Theodora, a sooty mass of fluff, filled Minnie’s lap. Mary held a glass of red wine.
Crash’s gaze lingered on Mary. Her dress was patterned with butter-yellow flowers. Rocco valued and admired her financial acumen, but she was a few bulbs short of a chandelier. And Eva’s best friend. “I got Mary,” Crash said. “I don’t need nothing else.” He slanted Rocco a meaningful look. “Can I wish for people to disappear?”
“I’ve got everything I need, too,” Big Mike said as he added the last stripped-bare chicken leg to his pile of stripped-bare chicken legs. “Minnie, a house outside the city and a silent business partner.”
The latter was a not-so-subtle hint. “I’m a titan of industry,” Rocco protested automatically. “People beg for my mentorship.” He held his beer bottle with two fingers around the neck. Evie laughed at something Minnie said. Too loud.
“What would you wish for, Rocco?” Big Mike said.
“Wishes are stupid.” Everything could be taken from you in the space between two heartbeats.
“Maybe, maybe not,” Crash said quietly. “There’s a place for chance. If you hadn’t hired me and Mary, I wouldn’t have met her.” He sipped his beer. “I wouldn’t have Mr. Blain, Oscar and Ronald hanging about neither,” he said dryly. “And Oscar’s puppies.”
“Mr. Blain was telling members of Vitruvius Holdings’ board that I lurk outside bathroom doors trying to hear Eva urinate,” Rocco said. “He stretches out the word, so it’s got extra syllables. Ure-eey-aah-nate.”
Big Mike and Crash laughed simultaneously. “I’m almost sorry I booted you in the ribs when you were unconscious,” Crash said.
“Bygones,” Rocco said. He was surprised he meant it, but he wouldn’t have met Eva if Crash hadn’t given her a job. That counted for something.
Suddenly, the three women laughed uproariously.
“What do you think they’re talking about?” Rocco said.
“I don’t want to know,” Crash said. “I just need to know Mary’s safe. The rest makes my brain dissolve.”
“Fashion?” Big Mike said. His gaze lingered on Minnie. “I hope she’s not describing another tie. Or another avant-garde suit.”
Mary set her glass down and spread her hands about seven inches apart. She giggled, her cheeks bunching and her narrow eyes narrowing further. Eva spread her hands the same distance apart and bugged her eyes. With a smug look, Minnie held her hands nine inches apart. Eva and Mary high-fived Minnie.
“That’s my baby sister,” Crash said sourly, glaring at Big Mike. “They better fucking be comparing fish they’ve caught.”
Big Mike shrugged massive shoulders.
“Freak.” Rocco clapped his partner on his bicep in a brotherly fashion. It was like slapping a tree trunk.
After their friends left, he and Eva scraped plates into the garbage and packed the dishwasher in companionable silence. “I’ll put Jason to bed,” Rocco said, dropping a kiss on her bare shoulder. She was barefoot and delectable in her silky shorts and matching sleeveless top.
She smiled at him. He was close enough to count the freckles on the bridge of her nose. If those stupid paper cranes granted him a wish, what would he wish for? A second chance at happiness? No. Too much beer had made him maudlin. She was loud. Sassy. Twenty. She had little schooling and terrible taste, but he was starting to look for her every time he entered a room. To listen for her laugh in the apartment. To smile when he heard her earnestly discussing rocks and cats with Jason. He had almost told Jason to ask your mom when his boy wanted to know if he could invite his little friend to their next barbecue. Eva was starting to fill up the place. To fill him up.
No. He couldn’t do this again. Wouldn’t.
“What?” Her hand cupped his cheek. She kissed him as if sensing he needed to be touched. Beth used to do that. He locked her close and deepened the kiss. He was too rough, but she softened against him, gentling him. He let her go when she pulled away from him. “Put Jason to bed,” she said softly. “And then we can….” She stroked a hand down his chest. “Minnie was helping Mary with her dirty-talk script.”
“You heard me. Mary wants to learn how to talk real dirty in bed. She’s sleeping with an outlaw biker, after all.”
“A script?” He half wanted to know. And half didn’t want to know.
“It was so good I wanted to take notes.” She leaned in and whispered sexy filth into his ear. He hardened instantly. She grinned. “See?”
She had to fend him off and remind him to retrieve his sleeping son from the patio and put him to bed, or else he would have taken her on one of the granite kitchen counters.
Jason was too sleepy to wash or change into his jammies. Rocco stripped his clothes from him and tucked him under his Spider-Man duvet beside his baku. He kissed his boy goodnight before he hurried into his and Eva’s bedroom. Eva was missing. He checked the bathroom. No Eva.
He retraced his steps, checking his study and the TV room. No Eva. The kitchen light was off. “Eva?” he called softly, walking into the vast sitting room. It was dark except for the moonlight that poured in the floor-to-ceiling windows, lighting couches and cream flower arrangements. “Evie?” The glass doors to the pool area lay open. The pool, lit from beneath the waterline, glowed blue. A slim figure swam underwater.
He stopped. Eva was naked. She surfaced, arching out of the water and slicking her dark hair back. Water sluiced from her skin. Rivulets trickled down her pert breasts. Sparkling droplets tipped her nipples. He was suddenly thirsty.
“You’re skinny-dipping,” he said, pointing out the obvious.
“I know the owner,” she said with a laugh and tipped onto her back, floating in the blue water. She was as sleek as an otter. The secret delta of hair at the V of her slim thighs was dark against her pale skin. She seemed to glow in the lit water. Eva didn’t need sequins to draw and hold his attention.
He stripped off his clothes and shoes before diving into the water and surfacing beside her. She laughed when he drew her close. Her arms circled his neck. Her legs bumped his beneath the surface.
“Hello,” she whispered, wrapping her legs around him.
He made his wish.