Though my leg ached and itched something fierce from the tattoo, and my feet hurt from the rhinestone straps, we made it through by cashing in $25,000 in total and cashing out $24,000 in cashier’s checks. We lost only $1000 during our gambling exploits which took us from casino to casino so that no one would be the wiser.
By the time we shuffled into the elegant Bellagio, it was one a.m. and we were tired out of our minds. Red Bull and coffee only went so far, even with our drinking kept at a minimum. We had spent most of the night on edge, and with midnight flying past us—my Cinderella hour—we were letting our guard down a bit.
I was done with gambling for now. We had cashed out, but Camden wanted to play a few rounds of blackjack with some of his own money. Not a lot, just enough to have some fun. It was nice to just sit beside him, perched like the perfect femme fatale, and yell at him to say “hit me” or not. Plus the blackjack players at the Bellagio were the perfect subjects for people watching. When I wasn’t lurking over Camden’s shoulder or making sure my nipple ring wasn’t poking through the lace inserts, I was watching everyone else, wondering if they too had a story to tell.
“Are you thirsty I?” I asked him, crooning into his ear as he raked his chips toward him. Oh, I also had a lot of fun with the whole pretending we were a high-rolling couple thing. It meant I got to whisper sweet nothings in his ear, breathe in the skin at the back of his neck, and shoot him suggestive glances from across the room. It was all an act and it wasn’t an act.
“Last one, I promise,” he said, slipping me a twenty. “Something that’ll kick my ass for the next hour.”
I took it with a sly smile and slinked off through the maze of tables and machines toward the circle bar. I say slink because it was impossible to dress like I had and not feel like Jessica Rabbit.
Almost every casino has a circle bar in it, usually smack dab in the middle of the main floor. It’s a great place to meet people without paying a cover, especially with the high turnover rate. I had picked Bellagio’s circle bar because the bartender took a liking to me and was giving me strong drinks for the cheap—I’d even scored some Red Bull off him for free. It was a little out of the way from Camden’s table, which was hidden in the back behind rows of slot machines, but if we were ever out of each other’s sight for too long we’d text each other. Yes, I gave him back his phone privileges.
Some of the clubs and bars must have been emptying out because suddenly there was a line of drunk frat boys in front of me. I tried to get the bartender’s attention, and though he saw me, he couldn’t ignore everyone else. I would have to wait.
I stood in line at the bar and debated going to another one, even if it wasn’t top shelf for cheap, when my phone beeped. Thinking it was Camden wondering where his drink was, I fished it out.
The screen on my phone showed a text message from a strange number. One word.
It was attached to a 228 area code. Biloxi.
I don’t think the word “hi” had ever looked so terrifying. I nearly dropped the phone. But I didn’t. I went straight to Camden’s number.
I texted: Code Black.
I shoved the phone back in my clutch and gulped, dizziness swarming up my arms, toward my head.
I knew whose number that was. It had been left on my homemade Wanted poster. I hoped Camden did exactly what I’d meant with Code Black. We’d talked about it earlier, about what to do in a worst case scenario, the “what ifs” and our plan of attack. And now it was happening.
Javier had my number. He was closer than I ever thought.
“Miss?” the bartender called out to me. I turned to look at him in a daze. The line had dissipated. I was next.
I was about to wave at him a “no thank you” and shake my head then get a move on to the elevators, but my vision went right past him. It went to the opposite side of the bar where a man was sitting.
Sitting and staring at me with yellow-green eyes.
The man smiled and I felt a chunk of ice slide down my spine.
I wish I could say I turned and ran the minute I recognized his face. But I didn’t. I hesitated, perhaps a few seconds too long. Because Javier had a face that compelled you to look at him. Camden had been right with his impression—he really was like the sun. If you stared at him too long, you’d get burned.
He wasn’t the world’s best looking guy, and for comparison’s sake, he didn’t have Camden’s classical all-male good looks. His mouth was a little too wide and snaked from corner to corner. His nose had been broken a few times, and when you looked at him straight on like I was doing as I stared at him across the circle bar, you could really tell. But his eyes were beautiful, cunning and otherworldly. His hair was a controlled mess; wispy dark strands that swooped across his forehead with long sideburns. He had high cheekbones, a strong jawline. When you combined all the parts, they equaled so much more than the sum. He was exotically, dangerously beautiful.
He’d been mine once. He’d broken my heart once.
And he was here to kill me. He only needed to do that once, too.
All the time I’d been staring at him, enveloped in his eyes, caged by his presence, he was staring back at me. It was only when he moved to text something on his phone that I found myself coming back into the present.
My cell beeped again. The corner of his mouth lifted, eyes back on me.
Against my better judgement, I looked at it.
You have no new tale to tell? 26 years on your way to hell.
I felt hollowness inside, like I was being chiseled out by fear. It was a line from the song “Wish,” the song tattooed on his wrist. My song choice for him. At the time I didn’t know who the song was about but now I know he made it about me.
You look beautiful.
I needed to get out of there. I made a quick glance around, looking for Alex and Raul, knowing they had to be close by. I didn’t see them but that didn’t mean anything in a casino. I tried to calm my racing heart and think. I needed to walk past the circle bar, past Javier to get to the hotel entrance, to get to Camden. Christ, I hoped he wasn’t looking for me and had just done as we planned.
Walking past Javier put me in the line of fire. But he wouldn’t dare grab me in the middle of a casino surrounded by people, cameras, and undercover security. He’d let me walk right past him and then I’d be followed. I couldn’t have that either.
I had to have him detained. More than that, I had to have Raul and Alex detained, wherever they were. I had to walk right up to him and engage him because if I ran, there would be no escape.
Sucking back courage like one hundred proof whiskey, I shoved my cell back into my clutch, tightened my grip on it until my knuckles were white, and walked around the circle bar. My eyes never left Javier and his never left mine. I could almost hear “Wish” pounding away in my head, matching its speed with my heart.
I stopped right beside him, beside a drunk couple who were laughing too loudly, a couple who had no idea what kind of animal they were sitting near.
Javier was wearing an unbuttoned suit jacket in a greenish-beige tone that would have looked drab on anyone else but him and a collarless white linen shirt underneath. He smelled like a million misleading memories.
As if in slow motion, I rested my hand on the bar top. I focused on it like obsessive woman possessed, how close it was to his hand as it held onto a drink I knew was Bombay Sapphire and tonic water. His hand was tawny, speckled with scars. I had held that hand many times, marveling at how dark his skin got in the summer, and I’d kissed every bump and mark. Hands that knew my body inside and out. Hands that were so often covered in someone else’s blood.
“Ellie Watt,” he said to me. His accent was soft and seductive, his voice light. “I have to say I like your real name a lot better. It suits you.”
He reached for my hand and I snatched it out of the way before he could touch me. I brought my eyes to his and steadied myself.
“What do you want from me?” I asked.
He tilted his head, observing me with an appreciative smile. “Your hair, it’s different too. I like it. You’re far too angry to be a blonde.” He nodded at my arm. “I told you I’d be looking for you, didn’t I?”
I knew that tattoo would come back to bite me on the ass.
“What do you want from me, Javier?” I said again, trying to keep my voice from shaking. I had to do this fast.
He frowned but somehow he was still smiling, as if I was a child who didn’t seem to get the lesson.
“What do I want?” He tugged at his ear, something he did when he was excited. “Oh, Eden, Ellie, you. I want the world from you.”
Time to make my move. I kept my eyes cold and impassive. “I can’t give you that. But I can give you a way out.”
I opened my purse and took out my pocketknife. Its blade glinted under the casino lights as I brought it close to his stomach. We were so packed in at the bar that no one there could probably see what I was doing. But that didn’t mean other people in the casino couldn’t see and that’s what I wanted. Most people wouldn’t be paying attention, but the men who were paying attention, they’d see right away.
He sucked in his stomach to move it out of the knife’s way. I kept my hand as steady as possible.
“I’m going to stab you right here,” I told him. “Leave you to bleed.”
He raised his brows and gave me an anxious grin. It faltered slightly, which meant he was buying it. He was worried, just a little, and it was enough. “I suppose I’d deserve it,” he said carefully, his eyes darting between mine and the knife. “As if you taking Jose and the money wasn’t enough.”
“It wasn’t enough,” I answered truthfully.
He licked his lips. “Still so much spite, I see.”
I edged the knife forward so it pricked the fabric of his shirt and whispered, “You see nothing.”
That extra movement was all it took. Suddenly Raul and Alex were beside us, ready to protect their man. I didn’t bother looking their way. We’d never gotten along.
Javier jerked his head at them. “If you’re planning on killing me, you know they won’t let you.”
I smiled broadly at him. “Oh, I’m not planning on killing you.”
With one quick motion, I put the knife back in my purse, then screamed “Help!” and whirled around to face the bartender who was just about to pour a drink. ”Help me!” I yelled at him. ”These men are trying to rob my winnings!”
Javier, Raul, and Alex barely had any time to act. They were surprised, caught off guard, and after the bartender pressed a button underneath the bar and made a few hand gestures to people hidden across the casino, they had nowhere to run. Four big security guys in dark suits and Bluetooths suddenly grabbed them just as they were getting ready to leave.
Javier’s eyes could have burned right through me. I felt nothing. I looked at the security guys, aware that everyone in the casino was gasping or watching with interest. “They were trying to rob me, they said they had guns.” Raul and Alex objected as the security started patting them down. I knew they’d find guns on them, but I was not sticking around to find out.